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Clare's Cillian Brennan in action against Limerick's James Naughton and Josh Ryan.

Brennan is back and raring to go

Cillian Brennan is Clare captain like his brother Gary before him, but that honour aside he’s just glad to be back at full fitness after missing the entire National League campaign writes Joe Ó Muircheartaigh

It was a case of a footballing déjà vu for Cillian Brennan this year as he slowly but surely nursed his way back from a debilitating groin injury that curtailed him towards the end of last year’s inter-county season.
It’s not that he was injured and didn’t kick a ball in the National League after emulating his older brother Gary by being named Clare captain for the 2024 season.
Instead, it was in the role he was given during his rehab – he was on the pitch, even if it didn’t amount to game time because his incursions were confined to his Maor Foirne duties.
“It brought me back to where I started,” the Clondegad man reflected this week. “When brought in 2016 in the championship I would have been doing the water with Conal Ó hAiniféin.
“That was where my experience started. In one way, it gave me a bit of freedom rather than sitting in the stand.
“It was great to be able to encourage the lads and help them out in any way and be part of it in some way. A different perspective for sure,” he added.
But, at the same time the 27-year-old cut a frustrated figure at the same time – itching to be out there getting game time as this new Clare team put down a marker with an impressive National League campaign.
“I have been lucky enough that I haven’t spent too much time on the sidelines and have been in the thick of it most of the time, but it is frustrating when you’re not playing,” he admitted.
“You’d love to be contributing out on the field. It tests the patience when you’re on the line but in fairness, the lads have been excellent and have been pushing standards on the field in training and matches.
“Going back to last year when the call was coming to go back, there was real hunger and enthusiasm to get back there for the year.
“They were eager to push things forward and keep the standards as high as possible. You would have seen a lot of guys step up in the league who have shown great leadership in the way they’ve played,” he added.
It all means that Brennan’s return to full fitness gives yet more leadership to the group as they hit the road to Dungarvan to Saturday’s evening’s semi-final.
“It has been a long road back but I am starting to get back into it fully,” he said. “It was a positive league but we would have been disappointed with the way it ended. There were certain performances where we got wins, where we would have been disappointed with the performance.
“It’s to try and drive those standards on and the backroom team are big on that. They want to keep pushing the standards,” he added.
And, for Brennan that translates into producing a season’s best on Saturday to beat a Waterford team buoyed by a first win in 14 years in the Munster Championship.
The time before would have been in 2010 when Brennan was looking on from the stand as his brother Gary was at midfield – just like he was three years previously he was at full-forward when making his championship debut.
“I have had many a trip down to Fraher Field as a supporter and you are coming away when it was a long trip home, based on some of the results,” he recalled.
“We are not going to get anything easy. Fraher Field is a tough place to go and we are going to have to be fully tuned in and bring a good performance if we want to get back to a Munster Final.
“That’s where you want to be – at the level competing against those teams, but at the same time you have to earn the right to be there and we have to put full focus on Waterford prepare as much as possible, bring our own standards and get the win.”
Last year’s Munster semi-final against Limerick was when his groin issue flared up and put him in a race against time for the Munster final.
A year on, with that injury nightmare finally behind him, what better way to mark a return to full fitness than by reaching another Munster final.
The last time Clare were in back-to-back provincial finals was 1936-37. They’ll never have a better chance of bridging this gap.

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