Fennelly: Kilkenny's success can't continue forever

Star midfielder Michael Fennelly has admitted that although Kilkenny's time at the top of the hurling tree will inevitably end at some point, the Cats are enjoying 'the huge challenge' presented to them by the chasing pack.

Fennelly: Kilkenny's success can't continue forever

Star midfielder Michael Fennelly has admitted that although Kilkenny's time at the top of the hurling tree will inevitably end at some point, the Cats are enjoying 'the huge challenge' presented to them by the chasing pack.

The gap between Kilkenny, who have won six of the last seven All-Irelands, and their chief rivals seems to be narrowing given Dublin's Leinster semi-final replay win over them last month and how tough a test Waterford provided in the qualifiers most recently.

Brian Cody's men needed extra-time and a huge show of resilience to see off the Déise in phase 3 of the qualifiers, a match in which Fennelly had a point-scoring contribution from the bench as he made his return from injury.

The Cody era has been marked by a succession of silverware-winning days and big match memories but with Cork up next in the All-Ireland quarter-finals this Sunday and Dublin and Limerick waiting in the last-four, Fennelly knows the Cats will have a fight on their hands to hold onto the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Whilst admitting that the team's stranglehold on the Championship crown 'can't continue forever', the former Hurler of the Year said: "Other teams are getting stronger and better and hungrier for success. A lot of these younger players are more fearless and want to achieve success. It's just the way things go.

"We're not hurling any worse than last year. We have injuries but other teams are stepping up."

Whereas the Hurling Championship may have been a three or four horse race in recent seasons with Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway and Waterford fighting it out for top honours, there is an added energy to the competition this summer with some dramatic results and Dublin and Limerick both claiming stand-out provincial victories.

Like Kilkenny, Clare have successfully negotiated their way through the back door route and face Galway in the second part of the Thurles double header this weekend.

It all makes for an ultra competitive race for All-Ireland glory and Fennelly would have it no other way, despite the Cats having to come the scenic route.

"There is great enjoyment from it, it's a huge challenge. Tyrone won the All-Ireland a few years back and they played something like 12 games. They had replays every week, they built on that.

"It's a huge team achievement in itself (to bounce back in the qualifiers against Tipperary and Waterford). It is exciting. In the past we've played four games in a year to win an All-Ireland. We're on our sixth game already and it's only a quarter-final.

"Once you stay injury-free and once you play the games, you enjoy it. The crowds are loving it too, heading away. Everyone is getting out to play these big games. They are going to the 70th minute as well, which creates a great atmosphere.

"It's been crazy to be fair. Even the two Dublin games in Portlaoise, we were up there around 5.30pm, game at seven, and the crowds were pouring in the gates. It was great to see it, and then Nowlan Park [against Tipp], a full house, it was unbelievable."

Fennelly is eager to play against Cork in the quarter-final clash and although he was brought on in the second half against Waterford and played in extra-time, he has been carrying an ankle injury.

It will be a race against time for the 28-year-old to prove his fitness. "(The Waterford game) was tough now, I don't think extra-time was planned. I was delighted to get on and once your head is right your body will go places, but you do need that bit of conditioning as well," he added.

"I did the last 20 minutes and then extra-time. Other players were fatiguing. I was able to keep going a bit but obviously I was tired myself. I have been off training the last eight or nine weeks, not doing a whole lot to be honest.

"I was doing a bit of swimming, I probably stopped that the last two or three weeks. But that's all I could do, it is a lot different to running around a hurling field and lads hitting off you.

"Hopefully this week I will be able to get a bit of training done and build up the fitness but obviously time is ticking."

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