Academy back eyeing opportunity to make a senior break
Galwegians star hoping to follow example of housemates who've made the step-up
Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30
Most of the Connacht squad have been given their chance to flex their muscles this season. Peter Robb has taken his, and now his good friend Cormac Brennan is looking to emulate his housemate.
Robb has made 12 appearances in his debut season as part of the senior set-up and Brennan, who is also 21, is now hot on his heels as he looks to burst through and make an impression.
Brennan was born in Dublin and moved to Ballyvaughan in Clare when he was five. He joined Galwegians subsequently - his father Padraig was an underage coach at Crowley Park.
He then went to boarding school in Roscrea, before he returned to Galway after some time with the Leinster youths. He is now in his first year in the Connacht academy, and studies law in NUI Galway.
But this year has given him the appetite to express his rugby talents, and the versatile back, who can play across the back-three but prefers to play centre, is desperate to join Robb at the top.
"I live with Peter. He is one of my really good friends. He puts in a tremendous amount of work. When he prepares well for a game like that he can come out on top like the best players," says Brennan.
"It is inspiring when you see the young guys putting it up and playing against the best."
After impressing for the Connacht Eagles all season, and featuring regularly for Galwegians in the top tier of Ulster Bank League, Brennan began to train with the Connacht senior side and was picked in his first squad for the huge inter-pro clash with Ulster on April 1.
But none of that could have been possible had he not been snapped up by academy manager Nigel Carolan when he spotted Brennan playing underage for Ireland.
He had played U-18 schools twice, U-19s and then U-20s for Leinster. Brennan was part of the sub-academy there for one year. Then after that he was in one 30-man squad for the Ireland U-20s.
He took part in a trial game for the Junior World Championships, and directly after was offered to go to the Sportsground on a two-year academy deal.
"Nigel picked me up from that. I was absolutely over the moon," he recalls. "Once he sees that you are giving it your all and he sees potential he is ready to give you your shot. He is a great coach - even the Irish U-20s, they are playing free-flowing rugby now.
"He gives young lads the licence to express their ability and that gives people the chance to show what they are about."
Brennan had to bide his time, watching other academy prospects get their chance, but he knows he's not far away now. Getting selected for the Ulster game was a massive confidence booster, and he relishes the chance to get some game-time.
"It's just exciting, the minute your name comes up you are just over the moon. I was just really excited. It's what you dream of when you are growing up, getting these opportunities so I am just thrilled," he says.
"Once you come in, and you know your roles, stick to the systems and have a bit of confidence about yourself, it will always come through. It is important you do your role in the team.
"You just have to think about the next game. I need to get my job and roles right. Once you take your opportunity the coaches trust you and they will be more likely to select you. That's the thing I want to focus on."
And for Brennan, that chance could come in any number of positions. He enjoys being versatile and says it gives him that unique selling point that coaches look for.
"My preferred position would be 13. But I think I am adequate in both 11, 14 and 15 as well. I am happy to play wherever," he says.
"I like having that bit of versatility. It gives you more opportunities for selection. It players are injured you get to experience all of the positions and you are not stuck down to one."
Brennan's other housemate, Sean O'Brien, has also made huge strides this season and he is another role model.
Brennan has lined out beside O'Brien since their underage days with Galwegians, all the way to Roscrea and then back again.
Fellow Galwegians Ciaran Gaffney and Marc Kelly also attended Roscrea at the same time, and along with former Leinster underage team-mate Oisin Heffernan they had a formidable line-up, but couldn't put it together in the Leinster Senior Cup.
"When I was in my first senior Cup year, 2011 transition year, we lost in the final to Clongowes, lost by a good bit. That was the year Conor Finn was there too. I was on the wing," recalls Brennan.
"Then my last year we lost to Blackrock in the semi-final which was very tough. They had a man sent off. We were up by a lot and we still lost the game."
There was no taste of silverware for Brennan in those years, and little did he think that his first season at Connacht would have him on the brink of being involved in something this special.
But none of the Connacht players are getting ahead of themselves just yet, that's what has got them this far, and they want to stick to what they know best.
"It would be huge to win something, but we are not looking too far forward," he says. "We are taking the next game just like the last one. When you follow that the rest will fall into place."