Straining at the Laois
Aidan Fennelly Interview
Laois corner-back Aidan Fennelly knows what its like to lose to a Mayo team in Croke Park. He plans for Sunday to be different.
THIS Sunday won’t be the first time that Laois corner back Aidan Fennelly will have lined out against the green and red in Croke Park. He was part of the Portlaoise team defeated by Ballina Stephenites in the 2005 All Ireland Club fina. The former All Star nominee does not look back on the day with great fondness and is hopeful that he can be on the right side of the result this time around. Several of the current Mayo squad were on duty for Ballina that day, including Pat Harte whom Fennelly marked and the Portlaoise man knows that playing the O’Moore men will not hold any fear for Mayo. He admits that with the games coming thick and fast in the past couple of weeks he has not really had time to think about next Sunday’s opponents. “We knew that Mayo were waiting for the winners in the next round, but we couldn’t even start thinking about playing them until after the Offaly game. That was a local derby and a huge game for us, so we were just relieved to get over it,” he said. This match is the first championship meeting in seventy years of the two counties and Fennelly (left) admits to enjoying the novel pairings thrown up by the qualifiers. “They are unpredictable and you could end up playing anyone. It really makes it interesting. We have played Mayo a few times in the league, over the years, and we played them in a few challenges, but this is the first championship game against them that I’ve played in, so it’ll be a new experience.”
Mayo have been idle since their last gasp victory over Galway in the Connacht Final while in the same time Laois had that qualifier against Offaly, plus two tough earlier games against Meath and Tyrone. When put to the tough tackling defender that this will give them an edge over their opponents, Fennelly is unsure.
“We have played some big games and they were tough but I don’t think it is going to make any difference come the day of the game. Mayo will have kept themselves ticking over. They will have been kept fresh in training and challenge games. Anyway they are used to the big occasions so they will not be overly worried or fazed unduly. I mean it is less than two years since they were in the All-Ireland final. They won’t be lacking in anything for the game.”
Fennelly has been one of the most consistent performers on the Laois team for the last number of years in the corner back role. However the man himself admits that it is not his natural position. “Actually none of the full-back line would play there if we had the choice. We are all natural half-backs. I play half-back with the club at home and i was I was playing half back for the county in Micko’s first year in charge but one of the boys got sent off in one of the games and I was put back to corner back in the reshuffle and I haven’t found my way out since”, he laughs. While he does reveal that he can at times, get bored playing corner back, he is looking forward to the challenge posed by Mayo’s attack. “Its up to the boss who I will be marking the next day, but whoever it is its going to be tough. All the Mayo forwards are good footballers and they will make sure I have a busy afternoon.”
The Portlaoise man was a member of the team which lost the All-Ireland minor final to Tyrone in 1998, and the following year he graduated onto the senior panel. The fortunes of the county have changed considerably since Fennelly made his debut.
“Back then we knew the supporters by name. When I used to tell people that the county panel was good enough to challenge for honours, they laughed at me. But I knew that we had the potential to achieve great things. When we did start winning it didn’t take those same people long to jump on the bandwagon.”
The summer of 2003, when Laois captured the Leinster championship for the first time in fifty seven years promised so much but shortly after the triumph Fennelly was rocked by a terrible injury blow.
“After Armagh knocked us out of the championship in the quarter finals, I went back playing for the club, but in my first game I tore the cruciate ligament in my leg. I ended up having to get the operation two days before Christmas, and spent the Christmas hobbling around. The recovery was very tough and but I think the hardest thing of the lot was watching the boys play in the league. That was tough. I got back in for the last two games, eased back in by the management, and thankfully I haven’t had any major worries since.”
If Laois were to get past Mayo there is every chance of renewing acquaintances with Dublin, who steamrolled them in the semi-final of the Leinster championship earlier this year. Thoughts of revenge have not even crossed Fennelly’s mind, according to the player himself. “God no, we wouldn’t be looking at that at all. We never look past the next game. We didn’t even think about Mayo until after the Offaly game. There is no point. If you take your eye off the next game at all you will be in trouble. If we started thinking about playing Dublin, Mayo could tear us apart. We have to be completely focussed for the game. The likes of the Mortimers, McDonald, the Brady’s are all really good footballers who are capable of causing serious damage to any team. We have to stop them doing it to us. We are definitely not thinking of anything other than facing Mayo next Sunday,” he insisted.