James Crombie/INPHO Gary Brennan: 'Croke Park is where you want to be'.
in the spotlight
He's Clare captain and a Munster interpro star but today is Gary Brennan's Croke Park debut
The 25 year-old is getting set to line out for his county for the first time at GAA headquarters.

LIKE THE REST of Clare, Gary Brennan was swept up by All-Ireland fever last year.

Hurling consumed the county in September as they squeezed in a frantic late revival to draw the All-Ireland senior final, won a third U21 crown in five years and then lifted the Liam McCarthy Cup on a goal-crazy Saturday.

Brennan watched his Ballyea clubmate Tony Kelly light up Croke Park and carry off an assortment of hurling awards by the close of the year. Fellow Ballyea men Paul Flanagan and Jack Browne were also on the triumphant Clare U21 side.

“I remember Tony as a young fella and he constantly had a hurley,” says Brennan. “His father and my father would have trained teams together with the club so we’d be helping out. You always could see his talent and drive.

“Paul is doing the same course (PE and Irish) that I did myself in UL. Himself and Jack work extremely hard and have come into the senior team this year. I was delighted for them last year, it was great to see.”

Brennan has a Clare career of his own. Ballyea are the hurling wing of his parish with Clondegad the sister football club. It’s there he has blossomed and graduated on to the less heralded county football side.

The 25 year-old is the Clare captain and has ruled midfield on Munster interprovincial winning sides. His profile is low but he’s a star in his own right.

Kevin Nolan and Gary Brennan Dan Sheridan / INPHO Gary Brennan featuring for Munster against Dublin's Kevin Nolan of Leinster in 2012. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Today he’s in action in Croke Park for the first time. Clare have a few survivors from the 2004 Tommy Murphy Cup winning team and a couple more that lined out with Kilmurry-Ibrickane in the 2010 All-Ireland club final. But for Brennan and others, this evening’s Division 4 league final represents unchartered territory.

“It’s the first time and I’m very much looking forward to it. I wouldn’t say I’ve been envious of the hurlers, it’s more frustrating that we haven’t achieved what we wanted to achieve.

“Croke Park is where you want to be. We’ve missed out on promotion three times on the last day in recent seasons. We learned from each of those experiences. Going up to Division 3 is the big thing and Croke Park is the added bonus.”

Clare will have to manage today without the Collins brothers, Sean and Podge, due to their commitments in Portugal for a warm-weather training camp with Davy Fitzgerald’s hurling squad. But their value in helping Clare to this stage has been easy to discern.

“They’ve been a massive addition,” says Brennan. “It’s a pity we don’t have them today but it was all laid down at the start of the year for their schedule. They bring obvious football talent but a great approach and attitude which spreads to the rest of us.”

Another Collins from Cratloe has come in to steer the Clare ship this year as well.

“It’s been a fresh start. Colm had been involved with guys underage, managing a lot of the guys at minor and U21 level. Ger Keane, Paudie Kissane and Chris (Delooze), each of have their own roles. Paudie’s a top class coach, who thinks about the game deeply. They’re excelling in every aspect.”

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The new faces on the sideline have helped shape a campaign that saw them finally land the promotion prize they craved. Coming back to draw against Leitrim and winning away to Antrim and Waterford were gut checks they passed successfully.

Brennan’s younger brother Shane is back on board this season after opting out last year to focus on his physiotherapy studies in Dublin. He’s drafted in to the team at full-forward tomorrow with Gary spearheading their drive from midfield.

Clare slipped up against Tipperary earlier in the league due to the costly concession of goals. Today is a day to rectify that in a venue they will relish.

Shane Brennan and James Fitzpatrick James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

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