Ballyhale Shamrocks’ Colin Fennelly claims Ballygunner co-captain Barry Coughlan disrespected the Kilkenny men in his All-Ireland Club SHC final winning speech last February.
As the clubs lock horns again in Sunday week’s eagerly-awaited semi-final, former Cats star Fennelly has ratcheted up the heat by revealing he took offence at the oration of his direct marker.
Accepting the Tommy Moore Cup alongside co-skipper Philip Mahony, Coughlan spoke of winning five All-Ireland titles in a row, but it was his remarks about Shamrocks that appear to have got under Fennelly’s skin.
Referring to Ballygunner’s opponents after Harry Ruddle’s dramatic winning goal in additional time, Coughlan said: "And to Ballyhale, I'm not going to be patronising with ye, you're going to go down as the best club team ever. Like, literally we robbed it today, you know. I suppose ye have done that to other teams so I suppose it goes around, it comes around. But I mean that with most respect. You're on the road a long time and hopefully we'll see ye again next year if ye do get out again.”
When it was put to Fennelly that the prospect of facing Ballygunner again was a motivation for him, he responded: “We’ve played Ballygunner a good few times over the years, so for me it’s another game. It’s a big game, so it is. It’s an All-Ireland semi-final. They bet us last year.
“Their speech at the end of the game, it’s not something you want to hear. You want that little bit of respect but, look, we’ll keep our heads down, we’ll do what we can do over the next two weeks. I’m sure they’ll do the same. Whoever comes out on top will come out on top and that’s it, you have to take hurling the way it is at face value. If you’re not good enough on the day, you won’t win and that’s it.”
Asked if the speech was a sore point in the Shamrocks’ group, Fennelly replied: “No, the sore point was we lost and that was it. You have to accept it. We’ve always showed teams respect and you just expect it back but that’s completely separate. It’s not something you like to hear but we lost and that’s the end of it.”
The 33-year-old genuinely felt that game 10 months ago was going to be his last, so claiming an 11th county title and an eighth Leinster medal on Sunday in the meantime is even more special.
“You have to cherish these things because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last. Walking off the field there in February, I didn’t think I’d be playing again, to be honest, and bit by bit the hunger comes back. When you have such a great panel of lads, you have no other choice but to do what you can to come back.
“A lot of people think you’re finished and you’re this and you’re that but there’s only one way to answer it and I think we’ve done that with the county final, we’ve done with the Leinster final. But, look, there’s a new challenge now ahead and we’re looking forward to it.”
Fennelly is not ready to hang up the boots for a while yet.
“I’ll never say it’s the last hurrah. Myself and (his girlfriend) Aliyah are going to Dubai in January. We were supposed to go in November but we’re looking at January now.
“She’s very good. She’s literally just waiting around. Fair enough, I have the hurling. She doesn’t have that and, again, it’s just that support that you have that makes things a lot easier.”
Fennelly’s club-mate TJ Reid’s life has become more hectic with the arrival of his daughter Harper but he’s not being spared any time off with Shamrocks.
“Sure look, he’s not the first man in Ireland to become a father so I’m not going to worry about him too much and we’re not going to let him give us any excuses,” smiled Fennelly.
“Look, he’s an amazing family there with him, he’s a great wife in Niamh and they will do what they do. TJ’s down practising frees in training and doing what he normally does.”
Sunday’s mini collapse early in the second half against Kilmacud Crokes is a worry, Fennelly acknowledges, but he added: “It’s good to get these wake-up calls. We’re not machines, you’re playing good teams and you have to give them the respect that they’re going to come at ya.
“It’s how to break them down and every day is a learning curve. There is never a day when you have hurling worked out or you know what to do or you know what to do the next day. But if we let that happen the next day, we won’t be going to an All-Ireland final.”