Sunday 26 March 2017

Eoin Brosnan revels in new lease of life

THERE is an extra bounce in Eoin Brosnan's step these days, and with good reasons too. Take your pick.

On the field, the reinvented Kerry star is in the midst of an incredible renaissance, for club and county. Transformed from a centre-forward to a powerful centre-back figurehead, Brosnan has revelled in his new lease of life. What's new can be wonderful, he muses.

"Moving to centre-back has given me a new sense of freedom," the content 31-year-old reflects.

"I am enjoying my football and enjoying my new position. Just getting back in with Kerry last year and getting to an All-Ireland was a boost, and after that it was back to Dr Crokes where we had great success at the end of the year. I can't complain."

It's no secret that Brosnan is enjoying his football once more, certainly a lot more than when he packed it in with Kerry in late 2009, somewhat disillusioned with it all. But since then a lot has changed for him and his wife Mary, most notably with the birth of his two daughters Annie and Elizabeth, who became Crokes' newest supporters just last month.

STRESS

"Of course when you are happy off the field it does help your football. There is certainly a link there. We have our hands full with the two girls but Mary, to be fair, has been great and she has been taking a lot of the stress and work off my plate," the Killarney-based solicitor says.

Juggling family life, a profession that demands long hours and what can be an all-consuming inter-county career is certainly another challenge, as he explains: "It's about balancing, working out a plan for the week so that you actually know what you are doing four or five days in advance."

Fitting football into that busy schedule isn't a chore, now that he has rediscovered his love for the game, and the dramatic change in his football hasn't gone unnoticed by Crokes manager Harry O'Neill.

"We played Austin Stacks in a club championship game back in Connolly Park, Tralee in early 2010 and Eoin didn't have one of his better nights. He wasn't the only fella to have an off game that day, to be fair," O'Neill recalls.

"But then something happened, his transformation from that game on was incredible. He never looked back. He started enjoying his football again.

"He got better and better with every game.

"Against Nemo Rangers in Mallow last January in the Munster club final, that was the day that everybody else stood up and took notice of Eoin Brosnan again. He is in total control of what he is about, and long may that continue."

And certainly Brosnan will be a key figure in Saturday's massive All-Ireland semi-final showdown with Crossmaglen Rangers in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise -- the same ground where the Armagh side defeated the Kerry club in the '07 All-Ireland final replay.

Revenge a dish best served cold, Eoin? He was having none of it.

"What happened five years ago will make no difference on Saturday. They were the better team. There were a lot of sideshows that went on but it came down to what happened on the field and we came up short," he says.

"Looking back, we felt that we were good enough but maybe the team was a little bit too young. A lot of our players that were 18, 19 or 20 are now 23, 24 or 25, so they have matured into men.

"We know the standard that we have to reach. That's enough motivation for us. We lost three Kerry county finals to South Kerry, but do we use that as a motivational factor against them? Not really, to be honest. Crossmaglen beat us because they were the better team.

"Now it's going to come down to who is the best footballing side on Saturday, who can get the scores on the board, who can limit mistakes, turnovers, who takes their chances."

With the surviving Crokes players from '07 -- Brosnan, Colm Cooper, Kieran O'Leary, Luke Quinn, Ambrose O'Donovan, Keith McMahon and Brian Looney -- all five years older and wiser, Brosnan is keen to point out that they are also stronger.

"Physically, when Harry O'Neill and Denis Coleman took charge of the team three years ago, one of the things that they identified -- we were after being beaten by South Kerry in a county championship quarter-final -- was our lack of physical strength, because South Kerry blew us away that day," the Kerry ace says.

"We knew then that we had to invest in ourselves in terms of strengthening and weights programmes, if we wanted to get to the next level and shake off the tag of underachievers. Joe O'Connor brought in a weights programme and the lads bought into it, and you can see now that fellas are bigger and stronger. It's paying dividends."

And Crokes will need to stand up and be counted when faced with the challenge of dethroning Crossmaglen this week. Brosnan is under no illusions.

"You look at Crossmaglen, and Nemo Rangers, because they are the benchmark. We are striving to reach their level. We are getting there. Hopefully we will show that on Saturday," Brosnan says.

"Crossmaglen are very direct and they obviously have a lot of faith in their full-forward line. Whenever they get the ball around the middle of the field it seems to be directed in, and that's something that we have to be prepared for, whether it's funnelling back or breaking those balls away if those balls come in. It's a challenge for us.

"If a neutral looks at our team they would probably say that our forwards are our strength, but Crossmaglen will have plans in place to counteract that. There are challenges for both teams."

The challenge for Brosnan and Co is to go two steps further than five years ago, firstly by beating Crossmaglen and then by winning the All-Ireland club title they crave so much. It would complete a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost so many big games in just a few years.

But since '07, a lot has changed for Crokes, and for Brosnan. He got married, has had two daughters, established himself as a solicitor, left the Kerry panel only to be coaxed back by Jack O'Connor, and has also been converted into a top-class centre-back.

His self-imposed exile from inter-county football in 2010, inadvertently, opened up an exciting new chapter in his personal football story.

"That break helped. When I was away I saw the other side of life. I played a bit of golf, did a few 5km and 10km runs, went away on a summer holiday with my wife and daughter and really enjoyed it at the time," he said.

"When the opportunity came to go back in with Kerry, I felt ready for it. Everything was new, there was a freshness there, I had the appetite, the body and mind felt good, so it was a win-win for me. I am really enjoying it right now."

And while victory on Saturday would add an extra pep to his walk next week in Killarney, it would also continue Eoin Brosnan's football reinvention.

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