Ballyhale Shamrocks captain Michael Fennelly has added his voice to the criticism of the condensed club calendar, bemoaning that Christmas was “cancelled” as the prepared for Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final win over Slaughtneil.
“I don’t think it’s a runner to be honest, Christmas is a time to switch off for a week or two, but you don’t even get to do that anymore now,” said the 35-year-old lecturer.
“If it was a bit later in January or the middle of January at least, you would probably have two weeks to prepare for it, but it’s too early now.
“Initially I would have thought: ‘Yeah, it’s not too bad,’ but from doing it now, the practicality of it is not there. Your Christmas is cancelled basically, because you are mentally switched on.”
He continued: “Christmas Day, you barely have a glass of wine with your dinner because you’ve got training the next day. Henry (Shefflin, manager) kept us fresh, he kept us with our families as much as possible but mentally you are switched on and you can’t chill out and relax and meet up with friends or family.
“You are trying to get to bed early, you are minding yourself trying to get to the gym and mentally it’s tough.”
This group of players have essentially been on a constant run of training and games since the start of the 2018 season that ended with them winning the All-Ireland, beating St Thomas’ of Galway on St Patrick’s Day last year.
Fennelly states that at this stage, they look to the example of Corofin in football for guidance.
“They (Corofin) are three years on the trot so those lads give us inspiration at times as well seeing how they are doing it, so there’s always a benchmark there to aim for and they are doing it in the football,” said Fennelly.
He admits the lay-off from the Leinster final did catch him by surprise and there is room for improvement ahead of their All-Ireland final against Borris-Ileigh on January 19th.
“If I switch off for two weeks — which I did because I was away for a few days over Christmas up in Longford and it’s difficult to get back into it because the body…I’m 35 in a few weeks,” he said. “It’s difficult, but we are glad to get through that and I have definitely room to improve myself.”
On Saturday he was in the manager’s bib with Offaly as they crushed Meath 8-18 to 3-18 in the Kehoe Cup semi-final.
They now will play Antrim this weekend in the final, with Fennelly admitting he found the transition between manager to player difficult.
“I find it hard to switch off,” he said.
We had a game Saturday, and even until 8 or 9pm that evening I was doing stuff with Offaly, so I need to switch off earlier because my head would be going 24/7.
"Even though we are going well, I’m still just thinking of different things, different teams, and different ways of lining out so I probably need to switch off a bit more and try and balance both.”
Although they went into the semi-final as 1-33 favourites, Slaughtneil played their part in serving up a classic. Within the Ballyhale camp, there was nobody taking the Ulster opposition for granted. “It went right down to the wire and we expected nothing less,” said Fennelly.
“Slaughtneil are a serious team, a serious community, and a serious club. We are delighted to get through and hopefully we can build on it now in the next two weeks.”