Friday 18 October 2019

'Eddie has that Cody presence people talk about' - Laois' Joe Phelan hails Brennan influence


Dreaming big: Laois vice-captain Joe Phelan is hopeful that the O’Moore men can get themselves right, physically and mentally, before Sunday’s showdown with Tipperary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Dreaming big: Laois vice-captain Joe Phelan is hopeful that the O’Moore men can get themselves right, physically and mentally, before Sunday’s showdown with Tipperary. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

As vice-captain of the Laois hurling team, Joe Phelan might have felt entitled to a little protection when it came to team selection.

But when the starting 15 for the Joe McDonagh Cup final against Westmeath last week was announced, he was out in the cold. No sentiment, just business.

Phelan regained his place when Donnacha Hartnett broke a thumb, an injury that required surgery last week, and he was able to savour the joy of their greatest day in decades.

It's that very lack of sentiment, Phelan acknowledges, that has drawn the players towards Eddie Brennan's management.

They were never under his command obviously but Phelan imagines there's more than a touch of Brian Cody in their own manager now.

It's come at a cost to him personally but the Camross defender, now 30, appreciates the straight approach.

"He has that presence, that Cody presence I suppose that people talk about. He's watching everything and driving everything on. It's just his mentality more than anything else, he's just such a winner.


"I know he's won so much as a player but he just has that winning attitude and that's what he spreads most among the players - that we can do this. If he says we can do it then everyone believes him.

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"If you're not up to the standard he'll call you out on it. He's straight up, there's no messing with Eddie. He's just very big on the basic skills and getting those right."

Yet, when it came to embracing such a momentous win as Laois experienced in front of a home crowd on Sunday, Brennan was front and centre, understanding the importance of enjoying such moments.

"You have to celebrate when you win or what's the point in winning?" Phelan asked. "He could tell us there, 'Go home now and don't drink', but then there would probably be a few lads sneaking off. In fairness to him, he nearly led the celebrations, he was singing, he was buying drink, even serving drink there at one stage I think later on in the night. He's a fantastic character to have around the group."

Phelan didn't play for Laois until 2015 when Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett introduced him. Prior to that, he had been an U-21 hurler with the county but also spent three years in Australia where his love of the game, and Laois hurling, grew further.

"I had a right time over there, it was a fantastic experience, the Irish are such a tight-knit community over there. They take the hurling very seriously, you get into it. You think that with your own club that it matters so much but then you just get sucked in by their enthusiasm."

He went to college in Brisbane, worked his way up to Townsville and eventually Mackay, a mining area, where he and a few colleagues formed a hurling team for a few months.

On his return, Plunkett re-integrated him and initially it was a tough introduction. "I was over there (Australia) with a lad called John Rowney and he was after playing with Laois for a number of years. We were always trying to follow the results at home and trying to listen to it on the radio or watch a match. But you just sort of realised, 'God, I'd love to get back there and make a burst at this'.

"Maybe I wasn't the most dedicated before I left but when I did get home, I realised I only had a few years left here and wanted to give it everything and see what happens.

"I was confident I could bridge whatever gap. Now, I was shellshocked when I did get back, the level of training had gone up a few gears since I had left, the game had changed in three or four years."

Laois threatened progress but a 35-point defeat to Clare in a 2016 qualifier was a low point for everyone.

"It was definitely one of the lowest days that I've ever experienced. It took us a while to recover from that. It was a tough time. We are after rebuilding now and, hopefully, those days are well behind us."


They return to Croke Park for the second time in just over two weeks on Sunday to play Tipperary in an All-Ireland quarter-final, having last played there before that in 2005, with the county still buzzing from last Sunday's achievement.

Fatigue, he acknowledges, may be an issue, given how some players were cramping in the closing stages against Dublin. Adding McDonagh Cup finalists to the MacCarthy Cup was an after-thought when the new hurling format was passed at a Special Congress in September 2017 and Laois have now justified that decision. But it may come at a cost.

"I think they're going to have to change it, especially after the Joe McDonagh Cup final. There should have been a two-week break for the winners and the losers. Three weeks in a row is asking a lot of players. We are after going to the well two weeks in a row.

"Even the mental side of it, to get ourselves set for Sunday again is tough, as well as the physical. The legs, I don't know how they'll hold up in Croke Park. Hopefully they'll be fine.

"We won't know until Sunday. It's really something they'll have to have a look at next year. It's very hard to refocus again and get the bodies right."

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