Saturday 16 December 2017

'A part of me was saying I don't know am I cut out for this'

Eddie Brennan has moved from despair to the brink of an All-Ireland U-21 title

Kilkenny U-21 manager Eddie Brennan is hoping his players can get their hands on the James Nowlan Cup this afternoon. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Kilkenny U-21 manager Eddie Brennan is hoping his players can get their hands on the James Nowlan Cup this afternoon. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Early in their Leinster U-21 semi-final against Westmeath in Mullingar back in June and with his side trailing by a point, Kilkenny manager Eddie Brennan let himself think the worst.

They had visited TEG Cusack Park 12 months earlier and lost. And in the build-up to the repeat fixture, there was some gallows humour among the management team.

"For a split second inside in your head, and it's mad what goes on inside in your head at times, but for a split second I was kind of going, 'Ah God, please don't let this happen again'. And we had joked beforehand about it, with the management, we said, 'Jesus, we might stay going to Galway and book a flight out of here if this doesn't work out tonight'."

The previous summer, Kilkenny missed a late penalty to lose to the Midlanders. This year they won by ten points though that margin flatters them a little as there was just three in it with three minutes left to play. Still, Brennan insists he was confident they would pull through.

"Observation is probably one of the big things that I find myself doing now. You are watching players. You are watching their body language. I was happy with their body language. I knew the boys were well up for it and yes there was a stiff challenge thrown at them but I thought they done very well mentally.

"That was a mental test as much as anything for the players and all we said to them at half-time was that they were going to have to be willing to go in and get hurt in the second half. And to be fair to a few of them, they did. And that's championship hurling.

"I am not talking about dirt. Championship hurling is about going in there where it hurts, putting your hand in where other lads wouldn't put in a hurl. And that night above the lads did. They went in and they dug it out and that's what pleased me with it.

"But yeah, definitely there was a sense of deja vu about it."

Kilkenny needed that win and Brennan needed it too. He was brought in to help improve the county's relatively poor record at the grade as before this season they had won just one Leinster title since their last All-Ireland success in 2009. The defeat to Westmeath rocked him to his core.

"It was definitely a hell of a jolt," he recalls. "I probably was naive to some regard, but I suppose you weren't expecting that... I'll qualify that. All the things we felt we were at risk from in the build-up to that match came to pass and there was no satisfaction in saying I was right.

"There was a lot of factors. I suppose it made me reassess everything. It made me sit back and reflect and that's the process that has to go with defeats. The next three, four months you are just churning the whole thing around and try to make sense of it and where can we make sure that doesn't happen again.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a part of me saying, 'God, would I just leave it. I don't know if I am cut out for this.'

"You certainly couldn't leave it on that. You say, 'Look, we'll have a go again and see where it takes us'.

"To be honest, we have probably worked that little bit harder from my own perspective. As a manager it opened my eyes as to what you need to do. I have got a serious appreciation for what inter-county managers do. It's massive, and even club managers, everyone, it just gave me a big understanding from that."

And as Brennan found ways to be better at his end of things, he feels the players have responded. They hit 30 points against Wexford to secure a provincial title. The less said about their win over Derry the better but he feels they are now ready for their Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 final against Limerick in Semple Stadium today.

"My role is to get them ready for the match and then almost stand back and let them off because it's them are the ones that are going to take to the field. So it's not about me as such, it's about them going out and trying to win a 21 All-Ireland.

"But yeah, privately I'm happy with what has happened this year. You say, 'Well look Jesus, I'd like to think I have brought something to the table'. I have worked quite hard at it this year, as have all the backroom team that we have involved and we have probably upped the ante as regards the work we have done this year. That's paying off. The players are buying into what we are trying to get them to do and that's the key to it.

"All you can ask of any player is if he gives himself completely and utterly to the set-up and they want to do something. That's been the beauty of this year, that the players have wanted this."

Irish Independent

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