Lean and mean Brennan looking for continued improvement
Clare stalwart Gary Brennan thinks back to 2008, and just his second Championship campaign with the Banner.
After a surprise call-up the previous year by then manager Paidí O Sé, the towering Ballyea man was entrusted to put his physicality to good use around the middle of the pitch.
In their opening provincial game, they had two points to spare over Waterford at Ennis. Three weeks later and they travelled to Fitzgerald Stadium to take on the All-Ireland champions in their own back yard.
The visitors managed just five points, and Brennan recalls the difficulty in competing against the formidable Kerry centre-midfield partnership, and just how much the role of the midfielder has changed in the intervening years.
“I remember going down to Killarney trying to compete in the air with Seamus Scanlon and Darragh Ó Sé,” he told RTÉ Sport.
“I was a good bit lighter than I am now. Then you try to bulk up to compete with these guys and next thing the game changes and it’s all about running around the place.”
A gifted hurler and an Irish international, Brennan is simply focusing being fully fit to face Limerick this weekend, hopeful that a recent ankle injury won’t rule him out of the clash at the Gaelic Grounds.
One of the finest fielders in the game, does he feel the mark has revived one of the perceived dying arts of the game?
“I suppose I always said at the time when I saw that rule coming in, I felt it would reward whoever did make a catch but I couldn’t see it leading to increased high fielding. I think that is the case.
“I haven’t seen more high fielding because of it but the positive as I said, it does reward the player who goes up and makes that catch. But the ball so rarely now seems to come out past the ’45 in a lot of games.”
The Banner finished ahead of both Tipperary and Cork in Division Two, a lofty third-place finish contrasting sharply with Limerick’s solitary win in the bottom tier, not that the towering midfielder is reading too much into the early season form.
“The table at the end of it this year would say we were third place, but the table lied a little bit with the re-fixtures at the end. We could have had a couple of more points, but we could easily have lost some along the way.
“You are talking about trying to break into that top tier, but when you look at our Championship performances over the last few years, we have come close to Kerry, come close to Mayo, but we haven’t been able to beat them.”
Colm Collins’ decision to stay in the hotseat was a boost to the squad and long-serving Brennan believes it is crucial that the man who has laid such strong foundations for Clare football remains at the helm as the Banner continue their upward trajectory.
“Colm has put a great structure in place. Guys have bought into it, he knows the county and he knows the players well.
“I don’t know whether he is planning on being an Arsene Wenger or a Brian Cody about it, but as long as he wants it at the moment he is more than welcome to have that job.
“It is important that we are looking to put the structures in place behind what Colm is doing at the moment because whenever he does decide, hopefully it is not too soon, that he wants to move on, we have something ready to go, to push it on.”
Clare are among a number of counties who harbour realistic ambitions of reaching the inaugural Super 8s, but they will have to cause at least one upset along the way.
Supporters will remember fondly the journey to the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-finals, but Brennan is knows there is a huge amount of work and no little luck required to realise that goal.
“The Super 8s are the topic of discussion for everyone but getting to the Super 8s is essentially getting to the quarter-final which we’ve done once in my 12 years of playing. So it’s not like it’s going to happen just because we want it to.
“We’d love to get there by all means, but it’s not to the fore of our minds at the moment. We’re focusing just on Munster Championship, we want to go as far as we can in the Championship, that’s the honest truth of it.
“If that brings us to the Super 8s, excellent and we’ll try and go a bit further then if we do.”
First up Limerick on Saturday night and the start of the journey.