Sprightly veteran Brennan still chasing glory with Graigue-Ballycallan
Eight-time All-Ireland winner set to face Portlaoise in Leinster intermediate final
Eddie Brennan: “There’s freedom to go and hurl. And it’s massive bonus territory for someone like me.” Photograph: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
The last place Eddie Brennan expected to be is sitting here, seven years after retiring from Kilkenny, a few weeks past the age of 40, talking up another AIB Leinster hurling final. Especially not at intermediate level.
It’s now 18 years since Graigue-Ballycallan last won a Kilkenny senior title, before losing the 2001 All-Ireland club final to Athenry after extra-time. But their re-emergence this season has been one of the emotional acts of the competition. Especially when beating close rivals Tullaroan in the county final.
“If you said to me back then you’d not win a county title until 2018, and it would be intermediate, then get to play in a Leinster final after that, I’d have said you need to go and be assessed,” says Brennan, who won eight All-Irelands with Kilkenny.
“But it’s happened, and it’s great, and the big kick I’m getting out of it is it’s hurling without pressure. I know from years ago when you’re a county player playing for your club, you tend to put huge pressure on yourself, to put in a big shift, maybe take two or three positions. Realistically, if you look after your own spot, that’s the trick to it. I always remember Henry Shefflin saying you can only look after your own spot.
“That’s what the last year has been about, enjoying it for what it is, just pure hurling, just one of the boys. We’ve a lot of good young guys coming through, and you don’t have to put in one of those ‘shoot the lights out’ performances to get us over the line.
“There’s freedom to go and hurl. And it’s massive bonus territory for someone like me, but I’m fortunate the body has never had any bad injuries, and I’m very busy, and good busy.
So is the former razor-sharp Kilkenny marksman still fast?
“No, I’m not getting away from lads at all, But just enjoying that side, same as James Ryall, winning league and championship this year, created a nice buzz among the team. And being match sharp is the key, even if you’re still fit.
“What I’ve thoroughly enjoyed about the county final is that I stood back, absorbed the celebrations, and really enjoyed it, what it can do for the community, the kick all the parish got, and over the neighbours too.
“It’s great momentum, and what you’d love every club to experience. My father won intermediate in 1987, and brought the club to my school. And that’s what keeps it going, and we won the U-13 in Kilkenny, a real stress test, so you have lads coming through, same as happening with Irish rugby at international level, players who grew up with Brian O’Driscoll.”
He’s busy in other ways too, taking charge of the Laois senior hurling team for 2018. Saturdays’s opposition also just happen to be Portlaoise.
“The man above certainly has a black sense of humour. It’s ironic. It’s funny. But I don’t know, we’ll see what happens next year. If we could get over Saturday, it’d be massive. To win something with the club again at Leinster level would be absolutely huge.
“With Laois, I suppose if I’m being honest you think occasionally after playing, what will I do or whatever and going into another job or going somewhere, I lived up there for seven or eight years, had a decent idea of the local scene.
“Maybe there’s a small bit of an affinity there, a connection. But it appealed to me in that I would have seen a few Laois minor teams go toe to toe with Kilkenny teams over the years. Look, the hurlers are there, it’s just maybe the challenge of can I put a system and a structure in place and a coaching team that can assist them or help them.”