• Home
  • /
  • GAA
  • /
  • 'They Are The Kind Of People That Make Counties Like Kilkenny Special'

'They Are The Kind Of People That Make Counties Like Kilkenny Special'

'They Are The Kind Of People That Make Counties Like Kilkenny Special'
By PJ Browne Updated
Share this article

Michael Fennelly recalls Brother Damien Brennan's advice when he was considering how to balance studying for his Leaving Cert and hurling with the Kilkenny minors.

"Brother Damien, he was our manager at the time," says Fennelly, speaking at the launch of this year’s Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships, "and he had a nice old quote, 'If you're hurling well, your studies will go well'."

Fennelly stuck with the hurling. He began 2003 as a corner-back with the Kilkenny minors. He ended it at midfield, where he would be stationed for the senior team as he won eight All-Irelands.

14 September 2003; Br Damien Brennan, centre, Kilkenny minor manager is lifted shoulder high after victory over Galway. All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Final, Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE *EDI*

"I just wasn't hurling well, and it was looking like I wasn't going to get anywhere near the team," says Fennelly.

"I was in Ballyhale Vocational School. They played me midfield, and that gave me more of a lease of life to go out and hurl, and express myself a little bit more. I just wasn't hurling well in the fullback line.


[See Also: Regret From Early Kilkenny Days Stuck With Michael Fennelly]

"I ended up playing at club senior level in midfield and that triggered the minors to try me in midfield. There was an opening. We had heap of strong backs.

"I had a really strong year, even though I didn't start well."

Fennelly recalls Brother Damien - a Christian Brother from Laois who came to teach in Kilkenny in the 90s - as being "a straight talker".


Pictured is former Kilkenny Minor hurler, Michael Fennelly, at the launch of this year’s Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

"He was good," Fennelly says.


"He would have been a stern manager. You wouldn't have crossed Brother Damien too quickly.

"There were a lot of injuries happening around that time. What did Brother Damien do? He did a two-year course, I think, in physio, to figure out what was happening, understand recovery, and understand training load. That's 20-odd years ago."

Kilkenny defeated Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final and then - on the day the Cats beat Cork in the senior decider to win the third Liam MacCarthy title of Brian Cody's reign - the minors defeated Galway in their final.


"My memory of that Cork game was Aisake Ó hAilpín," says Fennelly.

"When we were doing our warm-up, huddling together to head out into our positions, I remember running out towards midfield, and I could see Aisake Ó hAilpín who was 6' 6" coming against me.

"Ironically enough, I started in CIT in Cork for my business degree. Lo and behold, who was in my class, only Aisake. We became friends in that first year.


"To win in Croke Park is super, to lose in Croke Park is tough. We were blessed to come out of that final by a point. We played a very strong Galway team. A lot of those players went on to play for Galway [seniors].

"Donnacha Cody, Brian's son, he was corner-back that day for Kilkenny [minors]. It was a massively personal day for him with his father being on the sideline.

"I remember saying to one my teammates, 'Kilkenny have to win this. It'll be no craic afterwards if Kilkenny lose the senior'.


"It made it extra special. The banquet was savage and the craic was mighty."

19 September 2004; Kilkenny manager Br Damien Brennan watches the match with the Kilkenny backroom staff. All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Galway, O'Connor Park, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE

Brother Damien died in 2019 following a long battle with illness. He did so having left a mark on many of Kilkenny's top hurlers.

"I would have met Brother Damien at different times," says Fennelly.

"I would have caught him at different games. Any time there was a game in Callan, he'd always be there helping out.

"Once or twice I went to him for a bit of physio and just for a talk. I was aware that one or two of my teammates were doing it. I had a good chat with him and that was me done but I know other players continued on and really found solace. They found increases in performance, and confidence.

"Jackie Tyrrell would have spoken highly of him, Henry (Shefflin) would have spoken highly of him, JJ (Delaney) would have went to him as well. He's a really good guy to have in the background who was never looking for any limelight or credit. They are the kind of people that make counties like Kilkenny special."

This summer, Electric Ireland will use their social channels to spotlight players from across the Championships, in recognition of the major impact that playing Minor can have on young people’s future successes, on and off the field. You can follow the campaign on social media @ElectricIreland and via the hashtag #ThisIsMajor.

See Also: Can You Get 11/11 In Our 'When Did He Play Minor Hurling?' Quiz?

Join The Monday Club Have a tip or something brilliant you wanted to share on? We're looking for loyal Balls readers free-to-join members club where top tipsters can win prizes and Balls merchandise

Processing your request...

You are subscribed now!

Share this article

Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved. Developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com