He followed in the footsteps of his brothers in representing the Clare senior footballers but the youngest of the Brennan siblings will be the last man standing when Clare take on Westmeath this Sunday.
Cillian Brennan has quickly developed into one of Clare’s most solid and assured defenders since making his breakthrough at senior level, but with big brothers Gary and Shane now having departed the panel he finds himself alone in flying the Brennan flag.
Having soldiered along with Gary for the last few campaigns, the primary school teacher admits while it will be a change to not have his brother and captain there, he’s confident there is enough talent in the squad to take Clare to the next level.
“It is a small bit different without him alright but there is a great group of lads there and we really do have a huge amount of leaders throughout the panel. We are lucky to have that and there is a real sense of freshness and enthusiasm around the place too from those newer faces. They bring a great sense of hunger and enjoyment to it also. It is different without him alright but at the same time the challenge is there now for people to step up and try and take it on another bit again. We are trying to build on what we have been working on over the last few years and everything has been geared toward building on previous years. We are trying to bring those new lads up to standard on those aspects that we have been working on and make them aware of it. They are all good footballers and really intelligent lads so once they see what we are working towards, they are quick to fill in” he stated.
It will be a fourth consecutive season in the second tier for the Banner with the heroics of that great escape on the final day against Tipperary last year ensuring another season in Division Two. Brennan acknowledges that the panel are enjoying their football at this level and feel privileged to be testing themselves against top quality opposition.
He said: “That is what football is all about. We are a very lucky group of people to be able represent our county like this and play at such a high level as Division Two. I know when I was following Gary and Shane around as a supporter for a number of years, there were plenty tougher days in Division Four around the country so you can’t not be looking forward to a game like we have now this weekend. We are looking forward to taking on these big teams and applying yourself in the best way possible”.
Brennan’s rise through the ranks began when he was drafted in to the senior training panel having finished his time with the U-21 squad. He is just one of a number of players who have come through that system, spending time training with the senior panel before becoming a fully fledged member. He feels having that experience of what it takes to make it at the top is invaluable in adjusting to life as an inter-county player.
“I came in midway through the 2016 season once our U-21 campaign was over so I was lucky enough to see our run in the qualifiers that year just after the league win. I did my year training alongside them and was lucky enough to get my break the following year when Kevin Harnett got injured and I got my chance at full back so I have been lucky enough to hold on to the jersey since. It is great experience to come into the panel like that and see how things work. Sometimes it can be difficult if you are not seeing game time and clubs can be looking for lads and wondering why they are not playing with the clubs when they are not seeing a whole pile of action. When you are in there you are getting used to the standards that are there and the lifestyle that is required and what it takes to be an inter-county footballer playing at this level. We are lucky enough that we have a lot of leaders that can set that standard in our group and set that example for other guys to follow. We would like to set that as our base standard. We are disappointed at the way we went out last year but it is a whole new campaign now and our full focus is on Westmeath at the weekend and getting ourselves right for that” he said.
Clare had a mixed campaign in the McGrath Cup with an opening round loss to Limerick ultimately proving their downfall as defending champions. A strong second-half performance did see them overcome Waterford in the final group game but Brennan admits the real focus was always on Sunday’s trip with Westmeath.
“You always have that date in the back of your head and you always really look forward to the first round of the league from the time that the squad get back together and even through the McGrath Cup games. During the winter and in some of those earlier sessions it can feel like it is a long way off but you don’t feel it coming around. We have a lot of new bodies in and those pre season games can be a great chance for them to get out and mix in with the group and see how they find it. They have all applied themselves very well and it is good that they are mixing well and we have serious competition for places” said Brennan.
This year’s league takes on added significance with consequences for the championship for the teams relegated from Division Two. Brennan says while that may the case, it is not something they will be focusing on during the campaign.
“We can’t really allow ourselves to think about any of that. It is just a case of taking each game as it comes and there is a reason people always say that. You just cannot afford to look ahead particularly because Division Two is so competitive. We just have to get ourselves right for this weekend and make sure that we give everything to try and take on Westmeath up in Mullingar. We are doing everything we can to prepare for that game and we know that we will get nothing easy up there. We had a right battle with them in the championship last year and they have a good bit of momentum coming with them after their campaign in getting promoted last year from Division Three. They have a few lads back and they have quite a strong panel so it will take a huge effort from everyone that will see action to go and take them on and hopefully beat them up there” he concluded.