Kilkenny legend expects ‘huge challenge’ in first senior inter-county job with Laois

EDDIE BRENNAN ADMITS he’s facing a “huge challenge” as he begins his senior inter-county management career in charge of Joe McDonagh outfit Laois.

Brennan spent much of 2018 working as a pundit with The Sunday Game, and operating as a coach with Killnaule who won the South Tipperary championship in July.

And on the field, he’s been an influential figure in attack during Graigue-Ballycallan’s run to the Kilkenny intermediate title and their subsequent provincial campaign.

Graigue-Ballycallan face Portlaoise on Saturday in the Leinster club IHC final, while Brennan is also preparing his Laois charges for the Walsh Cup campaign which kicks off on 9 December against Offaly.

Brennan says the Laois job remains his priority, even if his club make it to the All-Ireland series next spring. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen but certainly the (club) campaign and balancing it with the Laois management – I understood from day one once I took that on that it’s your absolute focus,” he says.

It has to be. In a funny way the club thing has tucked in at the back of it all. Hopefully we can get over Saturday. It is what it is and we’ll get a bit of a break after Saturday and you’re getting Laois ready for Walsh Cup matches and for the first round of the league as well.

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“So Sunday week we’re over in Tullamore playing Offaly and the following weekend then we’ve Carlow coming over to Portlaoise. It’s one that came a little bit left-field in that this was seen as a logical way of enhancing the Walsh Cup.

“For me, a competition that probably has run its course in way, but it’s an opportunity to give lads a bit of game-time and that’s what we’ll be using it for.”

Still just 40, the eight-time All-Ireland winner has steadily built up his reputation on the sideline in recent years.

After a disastrous debut campaign over the Kilkenny U21s where they lost to Westmeath in the 2016 Leinster quarter-final, Brennan led the Cats all the way to the All-Ireland final the following year.

They lost to a star-studded Limerick side that included six players who would play in the senior All-Ireland final win over Galway 12 months later.

Graigue Ballycallan’s Eddie Brennan is pictured in Dublin ahead of the AIB GAA Leinster Intermediate Hurling Club Championship Final where they face Portlaoise on Saturday, December 1st at Nowlan Park.

Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

Brennan, a garda who lives in Portlaoise, knows Laois will have to hit the ground running in his first league campaign over them.

“In the league on 27 January we’re going up to Galway and six days later we’ve Waterford coming to Portlaoise so you’re focused very quickly. You have to be.

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“While you’re mindful of the time of year and commitments with players, you have to get a good body of training under your belts to go into those matches and do yourself justice and that’s what it’s about. We have to go into those matches and gain something from them. 

You’re not going to come out and make any stupid statements and say, ‘We’re going out there to beat someone like Galway.’ You’re going in there to those matches to prepare lads to give a good account of themselves, be as good as they can be and be competitive.

“If the fundamentals are right and guys’ heads are in the right place going into matches like that, that’s what it’s about. Obviously the Joe McDonagh is our big competition, that’s our championship, that’s the one that we’re going to be ultimately measured on and you’re gearing towards that.  

“The league, I think it’s an absolute must that we stay in (Division) 1B and I’d love to make a quarter-final as well. So that’s something that’s there, that’s a realistically achievable goal but standing in our way is a couple of right good teams.”

Experienced defender Cahir Healy hinted recently that he might consider a switch to John Sugrue’s footballers next season. Laois are an attractive proposition in football given their run to the Leinster final this year and the positive brand of football they’re employing under Sugrue.

“I’m very split down the middle over what to do,” Healy said earlier this month on SportsJOE’s GAA Hour. “I want to hurl with Laois but I haven’t played with the footballers in six or seven years.

Cahir Healy in action with the Portlaoise footballers last weekend.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I kind of have this feeling in my head that I need to go and prove myself. The last game I played with the footballers I was sent off in a league match and that’s kind of gnawing at me. I’m kind of stuck in the middle but it’s not really on my radar at the moment because it’s all about the club now.”

Healy incidentally will go up against Brennan in Saturday’s provincial final, and the Kilkenny legend confirmed no decision has been made yet.

“I would have spoken to a lot of players, Cahir was one of those,” says Brennan. “Again, I left it up to himself, the fact that he was playing hurling and football with his club and, to be honest, I’ve left it with him to come back to me and we can see later on where that’s at. 

He’d be an addition no matter who gets him, it’s maybe a matter for himself, what he has done in the last couple of years, coming over and back and working in London and then coming back on weekends, he’s kept himself as competitive and in as good an order as ever, it’s a testament to the kind of guy you’re dealing with. 

“So, it would of course be useful in the dressing room to help other guys along the way, if you have some young guy in there and he’s playing side by side with Cahir Healy, or someone like that, it’s only going to benefit them. But, we’ll just have to wait and see on that one.”

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