The eight-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny guided Offaly to Christy Ring Cup success last year, and two more wins in this season’s group will guarantee them a Joe McDonagh Cup final place.
Despite losing to Antrim in Round 1, Offaly’s fate remains in their own hands and a win over Kerry in Tralee on Saturday, followed by a home win over Carlow seven days later, would send them through to the final, placing them on the brink of a return to the Leinster championship.
Speaking at the announcement that Glenisk has signed a five-year title sponsorship deal with Offaly GAA, Fennelly outlined his McDonagh Cup ambitions.
“Look, I think I would have said maybe two months ago that it would be failure if we don’t get to the final, to be honest,” said Fennelly.
“I think it would be a failure this year if we didn’t get to it, to be straight up. We’re missing probably our best player, Oisín Kelly. He got the player of the year award last year, he’s a big strong forward for us. He’s a huge loss.
“It would be like losing Cathal Mannion from Galway, TJ Reid, the likes of Aaron Gillane in Limerick. Would those teams survive with missing some of those players?
“I know Limerick is a different kettle of fish, but he [Kelly] is a key player and that’s made it extra challenging this year. And we have picked up a large number of injuries during the league as well. They were only coming back over the last few weeks.
“So we’ve had a mountain of challenges this year, but I still think we’ve got to get to the final, without a doubt. And I personally would probably consider it a failure if we don’t, yeah, on my side of it more than anything.”
Fennelly admitted too that he’d love another crack at Antrim who also beat Offaly in a Division 1 relegation play-off in March.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “They’re the number one team there to be fair to them. They’re up in Division 1 again next year, and looking to get back up into Leinster.”
Offaly will be without midfielder Leon Fox for the Kerry game due to wedding commitments.
“We need to win and Kerry need to win,” said Fennelly. “We’re coming down to the latter end of the group now. I’d say Saturday will be a big factor in the overall championship in terms of who potentially progresses to the final.
“All we can do is look after our end of the business, but heading to Tralee any year is difficult. I was down there two years ago and it was a big wake-up call in terms of intercounty management. I don’t think it will be anything different this weekend.”