Sunday 18 August 2019

Dunphy red the only blot for Brennan as Laois look ahead

Eddie Brennan at the announcement that he will be a host for Bord Gáis Energy's GAA Legends Tours in Croke Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Eddie Brennan at the announcement that he will be a host for Bord Gáis Energy's GAA Legends Tours in Croke Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

There's a story Eddie Brennan tells to illustrate a point. Before he gets into it he adds a quick caveat - "I'm not seeking praise here" - and then he offers it up as a juxtaposition of then and now - his time as a player versus now, as a manager.

"In 2007, we played Wexford," he says. "I was marking 'Gizzy' (Diarmuid) Lyng and he got booked early in that match. In the second half he whipped across me with the hurl and I said to the ref, 'Don't send him off.'

"That's not saying we're great for the likes of that, but as a player you'd love that challenge of going toe-to-toe with the opposition, the cut and thrust. There's a healthy intensity and that's what makes hurling what it is. We want that and what we don't want to see is lads getting walked off the pitch."

He has no qualms about the result on Sunday, the Laois manager conceding that Tipp were the better team, but what rankles is the incident four minutes into the second half - Aaron Dunphy shown red after swinging his hurley into the thigh of Paudie Maher, the Tipp man quickly collapsing to the ground."

"I think there's a little simulation creeping into hurling the last couple of years and it's worrying," says Brennan.

Harsh

He has watched the incident back several times and believes it was harsh on Dunphy, to say the least. "I've been on the receiving end of a fair few of them and I've given a few as well. For me, they're part and parcel of hurling. It's a strike, we all accept that but I think if consistency is applied the next three games then we're going to see a nice few fellas sitting on the line.

"There was a level of guesswork involved and I really, really don't think they (saw) that incident. We want intensity and we want good hard-hitting, honest-to-God hurling - that's what makes it what it is.

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"It's a pity because it killed whatever little hope we had. I'm not trying to take away from (Tipperary) in any way, shape or form, but when you're coming in like we are, you need all those things to go for you."

The immense pride he had in his players' performance is still matched by the dismay he feels at the officiating.

"There wasn't a dirty stroke in the whole match and yet there was a ball of yellow cards thrown out.

"You're supposed to take action on something you've seen, but you had two lads picked out of a ruck that was pushing and shoving, booked when both officials had their backs turned to it. If they're not looking at four lads jostling, why are they booking them?"

It's not so much the decisions themselves he has a problem with, just the lingering sense that the remaining games will not be officiated the same way.

"If the rules are going to be applied consistently then we're going to see a lot of players walk because there are belts of hurls. All you want is what's best for the players and what's best for the game."

After his first full year of inter-county management, Brennan is well placed to gauge the health of the modern game - "really good, getting better and better" - and the eight-time All-Ireland winner with Kilkenny helped script the story of the summer so far as Laois shocked Dublin to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final.

When he arrived his first mission was to pluck the low-hanging fruit of performance gains.

"The very simple stuff," he says. "Today we're all consumed with game-plans but if you're able not execute the basic skills you're at nothing. When we looked at the Galway match, five times in the first half Laois players walked out over a ball and didn't rise it the first time. That's where our starting point was.

"Also being accountable. The lads have to understand that if we're all in this together, we can't have lads not pulling their weight or not investing in it: 'I'm not forcing you to come in here but when you make a choice you're in it 110 per cent.'"

Now that the curtain is drawn on their summer, he can begin to think ahead to the 2020 Leinster Championship and the curious idea of a trip to Nowlan Park to take on Brian Cody.

"Oh Jesus, don't mention the war," he laughs. "That's going to be weird. It'll be a tough one all around but it is what it is and you just get on with it."

He wasn't all that surprised to see that rumours of Kilkenny's demise were greatly exaggerated, but he admits the Cats will need another gear to find a way past Limerick next week.

"John Kiely will have seen what Kilkenny are about and he'll know what his players are capable of. I'm not being coy or the cute Kilkenny man here. I think Limerick are in the position they would want and to me, they are favourites."

After Sunday's game Brennan, who will be a host for the Bord Gáis Energy GAA Legends Tours in Croke Park, took great heart from the words of Liam Sheedy, who conceded that Tipp had struggled.

"They couldn't get to grips with certain aspects of our game and that's just reinforcement for the players to say, 'Lads, we're doing a lot right here', and it's just a case of doing better and better."

Over the past month he felt the power surge of inspiration electrify the hurling community in Laois and while it'd be easy to look back in anger at the what-ifs of last Sunday, he'd much rather think about what's possible in 2020.

"I think the sky's the limit for them."

Irish Independent

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