Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 17 February 2018

Brennan’s back-to-basics approach a big contrast to methods of young bosses

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

At the end of their Ulster semi- final victory over Armagh, the cameras turned to John Brennan in the middle of St Tiernach's Park where he was doing a very 'modern' thing.

Brennan had gathered his Derry players and their associates in the backroom team into a huddle.

Yes, a huddle, that very 'modern' technique adopted by some very 'modern' managers who convene the combatants in the centre of the battle ground to debrief after the spoils of war have been decided.

But Brennan's was a huddle with a difference. There was no finger-pointing or fist-pumping, no wild eyes or gritted teeth. Just laughter.

As the huddle dispersed, the camera homed in on the 69-year-old former rugby player who had an impish grin creasing his face.

He had said something that everyone had seen the funny side to as they all spilled away with smiles on their faces.

In the RTE studio Joe Brolly was waxing lyrical about the Brennan factor -- "sideline slaughter," he described it, in his battle of wits with Paddy O'Rourke.

Wherever Brennan goes he creates happy, confident teams, suggested Brolly, using the rejuvenation of Enda Muldoon and Mark Lynch as examples of how the manager had "cured the sickness" of Derry football.

In those two snapshots you appreciated that Brennan is a little bit different.

In the two provincial finals this Sunday, three of the four managers will be singing off what is essentially the same hymn sheet. Brennan is the fly in the ointment.

Donegal's Jim McGuinness, Roscommon's Fergal O'Donnell and Mayo's James Horan are accurate prototypes for our idea of the modern manager.

They may not admit to Clive Woodward being their choice of bedtime reading, but they are thorough in their approach, organised and draw on the best of what sports science can offer them. And they are all a couple of years either side of 40.

They are all different in their own way, of course, but collectively, they are serious young men on serious missions following templates that are pretty much set in stone for the way most Gaelic games managers now conduct their business.

They may bristle at the notion, however, that what they do should be described as 'modern.'

They do it because it's what they believe best suits their team, nothing more.

Brennan also bristles at the term 'modern.'

Yet, in Clones on Sunday, the contrast between styles and techniques on the sidelines probably won't be starker at any stage this season.

With his collection of degrees and diplomas from Tralee, Jordanstown and John Moores University in Liverpool, McGuinness is teeming with qualifications and best practice.

In his own inimitable way Brennan is relishing the challenge. Last week at Derry's pre-Ulster final press conference in Owenbeg, he regaled those present with his own concept of management.

For Brennan, football mirrors life: the same fundamentals will more often than not apply.

"If you go to a meeting and you see a boy flicking through bits of paper looking for an answer, you know you're onto a winner," he figures.

"It's the same thing along the line. It is all condensed into 70-plus minutes and you have to switch on and be alert.

"Some people can't switch on. We will see who comes out the winner on Sunday.

"As for the modern managers, as they call themselves, well I'm a modern manager. I have changed teams.

" I go home. I think and I do plans out of the game, because you should always do your homework.

"I don't carry them (plans) with me, but you have it between your ears.

"You can carry your laptops, but football is still a simple game. Jim McGuinness may have ideas, but this year, Derry have encountered Mickey Harte and Kieran McGeeney and we have managed to come out on the right side of the result.

"I'm about long enough. I don't fear anyone. I respect my own intelligence and my ability to make changes and adapt when necessary.

"I have no doubt about my own capabilities on the line."

McGuinness has transformed Donegal from the stragglers that left Crossmaglen in late June last year, beaten out the gate by an Armagh team that didn't exactly set the world alight in their subsequent encounters.

He has shaped them into one of the most difficult teams around to break down and altered the 'party-going' label they have found so difficult to shake off.

O'Donnell has taken Roscommon from the depths of a 20-point hammering to Mayo in the 2009 championship to a Connacht title 12 months later and now they are on the cusp of back-to-back titles, which the county hasn't managed since 1991.

He has done so with the same meticulous approach that inspired an All-Ireland minor title in 2006, the forensic analysis of opponents being a key component of his artillery.

In both cases the investment in youth has, so far, paid dividends.

Mayo will also be hoping that their investment in a 38-year-old last September -- in preference to Dublin's former boss, the battle-hardened Tommy Lyons -- will reap the fruit that they expect.

Horan's extensive makeover with Ballintubber last season prompted Mayo to opt for the youthful touch.

All three are products of 1990s Gaelic football and the revolution in management and preparation that has followed it.

Brennan is cut from a different stone completely.

He's a raconteur, an empowerer of spirit, a touch of a rogue and, essentially, a one-man show.

No army of coaches, scientists, video analysts, statisticians, dieticians or psychologists can influence the ideas that take shape in his mind.

"They might be slick, they might be all that, but I have come across these people before," he suggested last week.

The old guard may be ready to strike back for the second week running.

Irish Independent

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