Eamon Fennell’s journey through the pain barrier to play football

Eamon Fennell lists out the injuries and setbacks he has experienced in the last two years and straight away you wonder why he’s still playing Gaelic football.

An All-Ireland winner with Dublin, in 2011, and St Vincents, in 2013, he did enough by his early 30s to walk away with all the boxes ticked. But club football is his drug and the 33-year-old can’t kick the habit so put himself through an at times torturous recovery programme after a litany of injuries.

First, he suffered a serious groin injuryin a club championship game against, as it happens, Ballymun Kickhams, Monday’s Dublin final opponents, in 2015. Surgery and rehab followed before Fennell returned in the summer of 2016 for a low-key game against Ballyboden but lasted just 20 seconds. This time, he ripped a hamstring straight off the bone.

“When I came back from the hamstring, everything was off,” said Fennell. “Just walking again was tough. I was learning how to walk again in the pool because my stride was shorter after the hamstring injury and then my back started to flare up because I had a bulge on four of the discs.

“So I struggled a bit with that and had one or two setbacks. But when I saw Sean O’Brien play against New Zealand in Chicago, and him getting through 60 minutes, I said, ‘okay, I can do this’ and I went to James Allen who is the same physio (that treated O’Brien). James sent me back to another guy and from there on I had a bit more belief. Up to then, it was just about quality of life.”

At his best, Fennell was a powerful, rampaging force in the Dublin midfield and played a key role in their breakthrough All-Ireland win of 2011. He’s a different player these days, a 20-minute man at best. But he believes he can put in as good a 20-minute shift as most.

“I was on crutches for two months at one stage,” he said. “I was able to walk but not to take a full normal stride. I needed to get a bit more of a stretch going in the hamstring without tearing it off the bone again. It was tough enough, walking in water and walking in the sea was all part of that.”

He finally returned to action as a substitute in the 13-point quarter-final win over St Sylvester’s on the last day of September.

“I was buzzing,” said Fennell. “You don’t want to show too much emotion but I was really buzzing for that moment.”


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