Michael Fennelly never let on to his pal in Belfast, but when he stayed the night there recently he secretly slept on the floor.
Chronic back trouble that played havoc with his Kilkenny hurling career makes overnight stays away from home particularly troublesome. If the bed isn’t as stiff as a board, his glutes and back will ache for days.
“It was an expensive bed, I’d say, but very soft,” said Fennelly. “I ended up on the floor and, after an hour, realised I wasn’t comfortable there either, so got back up again. I’d say I didn’t get to sleep until about five o’clock.
“It’s because my whole back was being activated and my glutes. I need a hard surface. Even recently, on my honeymoon, the first few days were tricky, because I was in different beds in different hotels and it takes the body a while to get used to that, stretching out and mobilising, but what can you do?”
The thing is, it wasn’t Fennelly’s crocked back and bulging discs that finally convinced him to call it quits with Kilkenny after a brilliant career that yielded eight All-Irelands.
Nor was it the Achilles he ruptured, the broken bones or the arthritis, which is an ongoing issue. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the knee injury he picked up last summer which left him in agony after training with the club.
Fennelly, a PhD graduate and lecturer, said: “The last six months, in particular, I have never gone through a period like it. We drew a [club] game and then we played the following week and my knees were killing me and we went to extra-time in that game as well, so all these things were going against me.
“Even walking into college my knees were killing me. I might train on a Friday and it would take 40 minutes for my knees to stop hurting me and that had never happened to me before. I suppose that set off alarm bells; I don’t want to be crippled over the next couple of years.”
Just days before Christmas, Kilkenny selector Derek Lyng said powerful midfielder Fennelly would be back for 2018.
“Yeah, I had committed to going back,” said the Ballyhale Shamrocks man, nodding. “We lost the semi-final with the club and, within a week-and-a-half, or two weeks, we were back with Kilkenny doing our own programmes.
“It came around so quickly I didn’t have time to think about it and I didn’t want to step back either, because people might be talking, you know, ‘is he staying or is he going?’
“So, I went back and did the gym sessions and enjoyed being in that environment. Even being back in Nowlan Park, I was like, ‘yeah, this is where I want to be’, but my gut was telling me, ‘am I really being true to myself? Do I really want this?’
“Even when I was talking to people, I found myself saying, ‘yeah, I’m gone back; am I mad to be back?’ So, I was nearly telling myself, subconsciously, ‘do I really want this? Is my body able for this?’
“The honeymoon I had in December, I wasn’t even planning on thinking about retiring or anything like that, but it just came to me one of the nights that it was a smart move, that it was time to step away.”
Fennelly was only home a matter of hours, when he called up boss Brian Cody to break the news.
“I was very concerned, to be honest, about telling him. Even getting the words out and saying it was another thing.
"You are nearly getting caught up in your words, but once I had it out there, I could relax and talk to him about the past, the future and the present; about different things.
“We had a good chat about stuff. It hasn’t hit me yet, I suppose, I’d say it won’t hit me until the league games come around.
"Even at that, I would have missed a lot of league games over the years, so it’s championship time I’d say it’ll really hit me in terms of missing out with Kilkenny.”
Fennelly feels Cody, who gave him his debut in 2006, was surprised by the news.
“I think he was wondering why I wanted to meet him on the 28th of December first of all, the day after my honeymoon,” he said. “He asked me was I 100% sure and I said, ‘look, I am’.
“He said that was fair enough and he always says, ‘if you want to go, go’. He won’t try to talk you around, because he feels that if you are not 100% committed to it, there is no point trying to drag someone through a year.”
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