Fennelly feeling blue

THE inquest was lengthy and immediate.

For almost an hour, a haunted squad of players sat in near silence as consoling voices washed over them.

Manager Brendan Fennelly said his piece, so too did county chairman Brian Allen who promised action and Denis Walsh who attempted to offer solace.

It was all too much for one player who fled halfway through, leaving behind a dressing-room that leaked little but the odd round of half-hearted applause and one bout of laughter that reeked of gallows humour.

Fennelly then emerged to face what must have been the most difficult of interviews in a managerial career that has spanned the club and county spheres in at least four counties over three decades.

“We just didn’t see the second-half coming,” he began. “It was bang, heads went down straight away. We met before the game and everybody decided to give it 110% regardless of what went right or wrong during the year.

“In fairness to them, they gave everything they had, particularly in the first-half, but there were probably lots of reasons for what happened.

“When you don’t prepare properly for matches, particularly the bigger ones, they will just give you a lesson on hurling.”

It didn’t take much more probing for Fennelly to open up about the systemic internal difficulties that have led to a situation where Laois now ship almost annual championship humiliations against hurling’s blue bloods.

The problems were evident long before Fennelly agreed to make the commute from Kilkenny last winter, but the man from Ballyhale got a worrying glimpse of what lay ahead when just 13 of the 30 players invited to meet him the first night showed up.

“Even that first night you would have thought that surely the players would have turned up to see what kind of a b****x I was, just to see what this guy has to say for himself, but just 30% of them turned up on the night.”

After an initially promising few months, the wheels began to come off after the round two league defeat by Carlow. His tenure since has been pockmarked with rumours of discontent and a dearth of interest.

Some players have walked away from the panel this year, others didn’t bother making the commitment in the first place but, though Fennelly accepted his fair share of the blame, the problems go far deeper.

“The reality is I am the 13th manager with Laois since the mid-90s. But it is not a manager issue. It is not about Babs Keating, Paudie Butler or Niall Rigney. None of them lads came to lose. They all wanted to be winners when they arrived but they all got disillusioned very quickly.

“That’s what I would think happened. I hate finishing a loser and I would certainly meet with the board to see what can be done.”

Whether he stays on or not next year, he doesn’t know.

In a way, it is immaterial. Managers come and go but the mentality of the players is the root of the problem although Fennelly was eager not do a Michael Duignan on it and tar everyone with the one brush.

“Playing for their county is very much second place to their club,” he explained. “Nobody will know what goes on between the five or six clubs in their little area but all is in their heads is the club championship, which is great in that little circle. But the county set-up is suffering big time.”

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