When a little more time has passed, it will inevitably become a question among hurling’s barstool brigade: name the man who spent a single year as Kilkenny manager immediately prior to Brian Cody?
The answer, of course, is Kevin Fennelly, though his brief reign should go down as far more than a mere historical footnote.
Before Fennelly took over, Kilkenny lost a Leinster final and All-Ireland semi-final in 1997 without ever really threatening to win either. Yet a year later, they’d reclaimed the provincial crown and come up just short of a gifted Offaly side in the All-Ireland decider.
Fennelly shocked the county by resigning in October 1998 though clearly laid strong foundations which were built upon by his successor Cody.
The Cats were back in another final in ‘99, losing to Cork, and were champions in 2000, the first of a remarkable 10 All-Irelands they would win under Cody now 17 years in the post.
“When I got the job, Ned Quinn was there, he was one of the lads who interviewed me for the job and they asked me when I went in, ‘what do you think, Kevin?’” recalled Fennelly.
“I said, ‘we’re going to win the All- Ireland’ and they said, ‘when?’ I said, ‘this year’, 1998. The lads didn’t think I was serious but I was serious. Two or three well known fellas rang me when I got the job and asked me was I mad? ‘This team is going nowhere’, they said.
“And I said: ‘we should win every All-Ireland’ because that was my attitude. And the All-Irelands did come quickly. The year after I trained them, 1999, we were hot favourites to win whereas the year before, we were apparently nowhere. So that’s how quickly it changed in Kilkenny.”
Fennelly said he could never have envisaged remaining in charge as long as Cody, admitting he wasn’t prepared to devote his life to the position.
“When I saw Brian stepping into the job I thought he was much more suited to the job than I was because if I’d a game of golf or something on in the evening, I’d like to be there. Brian was only interested in one thing — hurling and being in Nowlan Park doing it.”
Fennelly is the uncle of current Kilkenny midfielder Michael. A question mark has remained over his availability for each game this season due to long-term back trouble.
“The problem with Mick is he’s alright today but tomorrow he mightn’t be okay, that’s just the way. Lads can say it’s in his head, this that and the other thing but they don’t know Mick if they think it’s in his head.
“He’s not that type of guy.”
Fennelly is hopeful Kilkenny will win but is wary of a well rounded, balanced Galway side. “They’re not depending on the Joe factor, I think they’ve got that out of their heads, which is about time because no one man wins any match. There’s been far too much talk about Joe Canning in the last 10 years.
“It’s not that he isn’t a great player but there are great players in other counties and there isn’t half as much talk about them and they won a lot more than Joe, maybe because they were on better teams or whatever.”
Fennelly was speaking at the launch of the One Direct Kilmacud Crokes All-Ireland hurling sevens tournament, which takes place on Saturday.
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