ONE of Kilkenny's iconic hurlers, Michael Fennelly is to be appointed as the new Offaly senior hurling manager – interestingly, he is to get a two year term, with the option of a third, instead of the usual one year appointment the county traditionally prefers.
News of Fennelly's appointment is receiving a very warm welcome in Offaly as they bid to improve their status. The county has endured a torrid few years, culminating in relegation to the Christy Ring Cup and Division 2A of the National Hurling League this year, as they lost their place in top tiers in championship and league hurling.
Last year was particularly traumatic and Tullamore man, Kevin Martin was axed as manager as the county struggled during the Joe McDonagh Cup and found themselves immersed in a furious battle against demotion to the Christy Ring Cup. He was replaced by Lusmagh's Joachim Kelly, an Offaly hero from the 1980s, on an interim basis but was he unable to prevent the drop to hurling's third tier.
The search for a manager had begun immediately following relegation and it was widely expected that Offaly would set their sights on Kilkenny – another Kilkenny great, Eddie Brennan had done trojan work with neighbours Laois this year and it was obvious that Offaly would try to recruit someone with the potential of having a similar effect.
News of Fennelly's imminent appointment still came as a surprise on Tuesday night – it still has to be ratified by a full meeting of the Offaly GAA Board on Tuesday, September 3 but that will be a formality. There had been some speculation that Galway's Francis Forde might be targeted after Micheal Donoghue's term in Galway ended unexpectedly recently – Forde was part of his management team, has taught in Banagher College for years, managed St Rynagh's and worked as an Offaly coach in the past. However, it is likely that Offaly was well down the road of securing Fennelly's services by the time Donoghue departed.
While a novice in managerial terms, Fennelly has already won a reputation for his coaching ability and knowledge. He was a performance coach with Kildare senior footballers this year and has worked at lecturing in coaching, nutrition and injuries for Limerick Institute of Technology while he has been a key note speaker at various events in the areas of culture, leadership, values and personal development.
He is currently studying for a doctorate in leadership through Maynooth University, having won earned a certificate in leadership there in 2017. He also has an MSc in sports performance from the University of Limerick in 2013.
He was one of Kilkenny's best and most famous hurlers during a golden era for them – he has won eight All-Ireland senior hurling medals, captaining them in 2009, has three All-Stars and was hurler of the year in 2011. A brilliant midfielder, he has also won four All-Ireland and five Leinster club medals with Ballyhale Shamrocks, captaining them to the All-Ireland and Leinster club in 2018/2019. He has also won two All-Ireland U-21 hurling medals with Kilkenny, captain in 2006/
Offaly GAA announced the appointment in a statement on Tuesday night:
“Offaly GAA are pleased to announce that the Management Committee are recommending the appointment of Michael Fennelly as the Offaly Senior Hurling Manager for a 2 year term with an option for a third year. “The aim of this appointment is to bring pride and stability back to the Offaly jersey with the support of Michael and his backroom team. Michael brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and competence in all aspects of the modern-day team preparation. This is a challenging task and to be successful it will need the support of the players, their families, the clubs and all the people involved in Offaly GAA.Michael is confident of what he has learnt in his later years as a player and has always conveyed a passionate interest in the dynamics of the manager’s role. This is shown through his commitment off the field by studying for a doctorate in leadership sport. Michael is looking forward to the upcoming Offaly club championship and will use these games as the platform to choose his panel for 2020.Michael is due to ratify his backroom team in the coming weeks. This is a very important time for Offaly hurling and we want to wish Michael all the best over the coming year with his backroom team and new panel of players.”