Ger Brennan curbs suspect temperament through devotion to God
Published 15/09/2011 | 05:00
The 'ambition' question at the end of the personal player profiles on the the 'dubhub' section of the 'Hill 16' website throw up answers you would expect to see from a group of footballers in their 20s still striving to reach the top of their craft as a team.
Without exception, every player canvassed placed an All-Ireland title with their county as the stand-out goal; many more included success with their club as an equal priority. Few, if any, ventured outside the parameters with anything else.
Ger Brennan did, however. After success with St Vincent's and Dublin, Brennan's 'ambition' in life is to "deepen my relationship with God."
It is not uncommon for such strong spirituality and sport to mix, even in an Irish context. Ireland rugby player Andrew Trimble studied theology at Belfast Bible school and considers himself a devout Christian.
Former England wing Jason Robinson also took a spiritual path in his life after coming into closer contact with the former Samoan and New Zealand powerhouse Va'aiga Tuigamala.
For Brennan his desire to deepen his relationship with God has also manifested in a theology degree from NUI Maynooth and his immersion in the preparations for next year's 50th Eucharistic Congress.
The Congress, staged every four years across the world, is back in Ireland for the first time in 80 years and after six days of celebration and information at the RDS it will culminate in Croke Park with an expected 80,000 congregation.
Dublin centre-back Brennan has been a key component of the preparations, acting as a pastoral assistant for the Congress' ministry to youth until recently, a task that involves delivering talks in various Dioceses across the country. Those who have heard the testimony of his faith have been impressed by his powers of communication on the subject.
On the weekend of October 14-16, he will share a platform with Tyrone manager Mickey Harte as part of the Diocese of Meath's Eucharistic Congress preparations, outlining to young people the role that God plays in his life.
Tuigamala brought a huge physical edge to his game -- the image of him smashing his way through opponents with such force was somewhat at odds with a softer spiritual side. And there is something of that contrast with Dublin's defensive enforcer too who, by his own admission, has had to overcome a discipline issue on the field to mature into the player that he is.
Speaking after the victory over Donegal in last month's All-Ireland semi-final, Brennan shone a bright light on himself without conditions.
"There was a time that I was known as the one with the short fuse on this Dublin team. I had to change that, because otherwise I would not be playing for Dublin now. Pat (Gilroy) made that clear to me. You must play the game on the line, but I overstepped the line from time to time in the past. I'm not doing that anymore."
In a 10-month period between 2009 and 2010, red cards in three matches raised a question mark over his temperament.
His dismissal 19 minutes into the 2009 Leinster final against Kildare for an off-the-ball incident with Ken Donnelly reduced Dublin to 14 men for almost three-quarters of the game but they still won. He was sent off the following February in the Sigerson Cup, but again Maynooth survived his absence; the second of his yellow cards late on in normal time against Wexford in last year's Leinster quarter-final killed play at a crucial time as the Model were building but again cast a cloud over his temperament.
But since then his control has been much more evident and so too has his growing influence with Dublin.
Under Gilroy, he is the pivot of the Dublin defence, both the orchestrator and the enforcer at the heart of affairs.
In terms of mechanics Brennan is not too dissimilar to Armagh's former central defensive cog Kieran McGeeney. His deliveries off his left foot are accurate, he reads the game well and the entire defensive system has been built around him as the fulcrum.
When opponents attack Brennan has the freedom to drop back in front of his full-back line in the knowledge that his midfielders and wing-forwards will be filling the space that he vacates. Armagh deployed a similar system for a period in the early part of the last decade that gave McGeeney that same 'libero' role.
Brennan has thrived under the management of Gilroy and coaching of Mickey Whelan. Gilroy was a playing colleague at St Vincent's where Whelan was manager for the 2008 All-Ireland club title victory.
Brennan had already been part of the Dublin squad for two years by that stage but he was a peripheral figure and by the following May he had withdrawn from Paul Caffrey's squad citing burn-out.
With Gilroy and Whelan there is deep trust. From an early stage, it was apparent they were determined to build a defence around him, regardless of what others thought of him. He schooled at Belvedere on the northside, played schools rugby to a high level where an innate toughness developed that has sustained him well on the Gaelic football field.
Whelan once declared that Brennan was a man he would "go into the jungle with", a view formed since his early teens when it became apparent to Whelan that Brennan had the conviction and presence to make it in the No 6 role. He's been there ever since.
Invariably he is one of the busiest Dublin players in possession. When former Meath midfielder Liam Hayes described Brennan as 'Mr I'll make it happen' it reflected the role he plays in getting Dublin moving from the back when play has broken up.
The All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone provides the best illustration of the economy of Brennan's play.
From 23 'possessions' he wasted just one, kicking a ball loosely over the Hogan Stand sideline in the first half. Everything else found its target comfortably, with a variety of short-range kicked passes a feature of his game.
He was Dublin's most active defender in possession ahead of James McCarthy (20), Kevin Nolan (16) and Cian O'Sullivan (12).
He takes his sport seriously. He takes his faith very seriously too. And both are leading him to 80,000-plus congregations of the faithful in Croke Park.