EAMONN FENNELL HAS had a difficult few months.
His struggle with injuries meant his involvement with Dublin’s triumphant All-Ireland winning run was limited, only appearing as a substitute in their win over Kerry in the final last September.
However, the player is optimistic he can play a greater role in the Dubs’ campaign this term, and is far from daunted by the competition for places in the side.
“Yeah there’s massive competition at the moment and I suppose I was lucky enough to start the last day.
“I’d like to think I did enough to start but we’ve had a four-week break with training games and they’ve been tough enough now.
“So again I have to really achieve what I want to achieve, which is to hold my position now. I got the starting position at the start of the year and so it’s a matter of holding on to that.
“The training games have been a way of doing that.”
He emphasises that this year is likely to be tougher than ever to earn a place in the team, with five players currently competing for a spot in midfield.
“There’s five at the moment because Emmet O’Conghaile has been called up from the 21s and again he’s a really good player.
“Then there’s Ross, Denis and Mick so it’s tough at the moment but you need that as well.”
Fennell, however, appears to be in pole position to claim a starting place for this Sunday’s encounter with Wexford.
“I’m on the As [in training games]. They’ve been very close, we might have won one week and the next the other lads are winning so it has been close, it’s always one point between us, no team has been able to romp home.
“So that’s the way it has to be and that’s the way it’s been, moving on from last year to this year.”
And Fennell is optimistic that he has finally gotten over the succession of fitness problems that have dogged his intercounty career thus far.
“Yeah like throughout my intercounty career I’ve always had the transfer or different injuries stopping my progress.
“This year now I’ve had a good run and have remained injury-free so touch wood I can go on and have a good season now and stay injury-free because I’d love to hold my place for the rest of the year and really show everyone what I can do.”
Fennell adds that the level of consistency he has built up from playing regularly since the beginning of the season can only be of benefit to Dublin.
“Yeah definitely because last year I only started one game and I was only available for the last five games.
“We do massive work in the pre-season, everyone knows that, so you’re always playing catch up on the lads.
“So it was good to get that base done this year. Remaining injury-free is the key thing for me, I’ve been lucky enough to keep that way to date so hopefully that will remain the case.”
He explains that his club, St Vincents, deserve huge credit for his rejuvenation:
“Vincents are a great club, there’s a lot of support there from the lads within the club.
“All I ever wanted was to train with lads who wanted to train and play with lads who want to win, and Vincents have that at the moment.
“It’s been of massive benefit to me and again I need to keep playing football and remaining injury-free.”
Fennell says the youngsters who have graduated from Dublin’s U21 team are likely to be valuable additions to the squad.
“There are four of them who have been brought in – Kilkenny, Emmet O’Conghaile, Jack McCaffrey and Kevin O’Brien.
“The four of them are great footballers and again it’s only early days and I haven’t been able to see too much to be able to comment on them.
“But they all seem to be good footballers and all seem to have a good head on their shoulders as well, they won’t get sucked into the stuff that can happen when you first get on to the scene like believing the hype and everything that comes with the Dublin team.”
And on the subject of Dublin’s all-too-easy recent win over Louth, he dismissed suggestions that the game was a waste of time.
“No it definitely wasn’t a waste of time, we learn lessons from every game and in that Louth game we learned in the first 10 minutes they came at us and the two midfielders got through on goal so we have to stop that from the start.
“We have to be ready to go as soon as that whistle goes and that’s what we really took out of the game.
“If you give a team 10 minutes they can hurt you and Wexford are a really good football team, they like to go forward and are very attack-minded.
“So if we aren’t at the races and give them 10 minutes to play football, they can really hurt us.”
Fennell acknowledges that Wexford will need little motivation for this weekend’s game on account of their narrow loss to Pat Gilroy’s men in last year’s Leinster final, and he admits Dublin were somewhat fortunate to win on that occasion.
“If anything we robbed the game on them that day and it was just that one mistake, and we probably had a bit of luck on our side that day.
“It depends who has luck on their side on Sunday and we really have to be really tuned in, ready, expecting a tough game.”
Fennell adds that the preparation for these games can often be just as intense as the matches themselves, admitting he was still feeling the effects of their most recent training game.
“Players do get sore in these training games, I know I’m walking a bit gingerly still today after Saturday still.
“The training games are very tough and coming up to the Leinster final I think everyone was hoping because it’s hard to get into the starting XV after the Leinster campaign up the All-Ireland because the team is pretty much picked then with the exception of one or two changes.
“So everyone knew that was the real last chance saloon to get in and I think that was probably why. But again, you can’t use that because Wexford are a really good team and we knew that, we were probably just a fraction off.
“You look at Ireland against the All Blacks, if you’re a tiny bit off these really good teams will hurt you.
“So we have to be tuned in and ready to go.”