HE was reared almost beneath the shadow of Croke Park. But now when Dublin’s defensive ‘enforcer’ Ger Brennan visits his family home on Dorset Street in the north inner city, he can glance towards the GAA's headquarters knowing he is an All-Ireland champion.
Having enjoyed provincial success at minor, U21 and senior level, Brennan has finally got his hands on a coveted Celtic Cross.
Today the St Vincent’s man speaks exclusively to the Evening Herald about what it means to have reached the Promised Land,
his thoughts on the future of manager Pat Gilroy, and his desire for more silverware.
Diarmuid Geraghty: You can now |enjoy the rest of your career as an All-Ireland medal winner. How does it feel?
Ger Brennan: “It's been two weeks now and it's still somewhat surreal. It's starting to sink in gradually just what we have achieved but the strongest emotion is still a huge sense of relief. I never expected it would make the impact it has had on the people of Dublin. It has just been an unforgettable experience.”
DG: Having won provincial titles at all levels with Dublin, what does it mean to you personally?
GB: “Personally I am obviously delighted. But to be honest, I am even happier for my parents. They have always done their best for me all their lives and I know just how proud they are of me. I can't speak for the rest of the lads, but I get the sense that a lot of them would feel the same.”
DG: The All-Ireland final itself has been hailed from all quarters as one of the best in recent times. What was it like to play in?
GB: “The sense of occasion was something I had never experienced before. I could really feel the atmosphere when I was out on the pitch. The Dublin fans were brilliant and it is a huge help having them behind you in Croke Park. In terms of the game itself, all I remember is that I looked at the scoreboard and we were four points down. I thought to myself ‘I can't go through all this hard work again for nothing'. It was enough to drive me and the rest of the team through those last 10 minutes and when Kevin (McManamon) got that goal I knew all the momentum was with us.”
DG: There was obviously a big |St Vincent's connection given the management team of Pat Gilroy and Mickey Whelan. How much did it help you as a player having their trust?
GB: “It's always great to have people around you that you can trust. I suppose we have always had a great relationship going back to 2008 (All-Ireland club). Knowing they were behind me 100 per cent helped me improve as a player.”
DG: Your relationship with Mickey has often been described as resembling that of between a father and son. How did that come about and how will his departure affect the squad?
GB: “Any team that has someone like Mickey involved is a lucky one and as a team we will be all sorry to see him go. But he's 72 now and he owes nothing to Dublin football. As much as we will miss his enthusiasm and his knowledge, |we will be forever indebted to the commitment he has given us over the past few years.
“For me personally he has had |a massive influence on me as a person and a footballer. He was |the one who gave me a chance at centre-back as a juvenile and I have learned so much from him.
“But I am sure in the future, if I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing, he will be the first one on the phone to let me know!”
DG: Was it tough to adjust to |Pat becoming manager, given your friendship with him as a team-mate in St Vincent's?
GB: “I've heard it said that the Vincent's lads have it easy because |of Pat and Mickey. But if anything they are harder on the Vincent's lads and I felt that way at times as well!
“Pat is very professional in everything he does. He set out a common goal for the panel, put his vision forward about where he wanted the squad to be at and if you didn't buy into that you didn't play. Simple as that.”
DG: What does Pat bring to the |set-up as a manager, and do you think he will stay on?
GB: “As a player and a businessman, he is very successful. He has a drive to succeed in everything he does and he knows how to get the best out of people. I think he brought a more humble dynamic to the squad.
I often wondered why there was so much hype about previous regimes given that they hadn't achieved their goal of winning an All-Ireland. Pat keeps his feet firmly on the ground and that passes on to the team.
“But apart from his footballing nous as a manager, he is a great person and he's brilliant to be around. I have always said that the commitment a manager gives is even greater than the players.
“The lads and myself would respect Giller's decision if he does decide to go. He has a young family and his work is also very important to him so he has a lot to consider. But I really hope he carries on. If we want to go on and achieve even greater success in the future, continuity may be the key.”
DG: A lot was made of your training regime throughout this season. How tough was it?
GB: “People talk about the sacrifices we make as amateur athletes. But it is a privilege to be able to play at this level. I thoroughly enjoy it and even though the body gets sore at times, players should be grateful to have the opportunity to play with their counties.”
DG: You played rugby alongside Irish international Cian Healy in Belvedere College and during the |All-Ireland final he tweeted about you. What made you choose football over rugby?
GB: “It was never a choice. Football was always going to be the path I would take. It was nice to hear that Cian was keeping an eye on me because I was up the morning before watching him playing against Australia. I loved rugby and some of the best memories I have are playing for Belvedere College and indeed my time there as a pupil.
“I learned a lot of values there and I would hope to pass that on to my own pupils in St Kevin's College on the Ballygall Road where I am teaching. They have been great to me as well over the past few weeks.”
DG: Your close friend and club-mate Paul Conlon has departed for Australia. How will he be missed given that the club championship is now the focus?
GB: “Paul is a great guy, and a great friend. So he will be a loss to both Dublin and Vincent's. He will leave a big hole in our full-back line, and I'm not just talking about his backside! But it is vital to regain focus for the club. None of us would have |All-Ireland medals without our clubs, and it is time now to give something back to them and give our all in the club championship.”