Brennan lifting the FAI Cup with Pat's captain Ger O'Brien in 2014. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Hanging up the boots

'I had 70 and 80-year-old men coming up to me in tears. That kind of summed it up'

Killian Brennan reflects on an incredible career in the League of Ireland after announcing his retirement this week.

WHILE HIS TEAM-mates basked in the glory of a 5-0 win, applauding the home supporters at the end of another season, Killian Brennan paused to take a longer-than-usual look around his Richmond Park surroundings.

St Patrick’s Athletic had just beaten Derry City, with the veteran pulling the strings in midfield. But, at that moment, strings of a different kind were being clutched. For one of the League of Ireland’s most decorated — and celebrated — players, this was the end.


He took time over the winter to consider, among other things, contract offers from a few clubs. But, at 34, with three league and FAI Cup winners’ medals to boast on top of five League Cup gongs, he felt his journey had come to an end.

“The last game in Inchicore, I was thinking about retirement when I was walking off,” he tells The42.

“My last game was at home to Derry on 26 October and I kind of said to myself after that game that I was finished. I didn’t tell anyone else, but I felt it was probably going to be my last game.

“I gave myself a little bit of time over Christmas to decide whether I was going to do it. It’s quite a big decision in your life. I told the family in the new year that I had decided to pack it in and just put it out there.”

The 2013 PFAI Player of the Year announced his retirement on Facebook this week and has been “overwhelmed” by the reaction, with members and supporters from across the league showing their appreciation.

Although, he concedes, “pulling the plug” wasn’t something he necessarily wanted to do, a difficult recent run with injuries contributed to his decision to walk away a decade-and-a-half after getting his League of Ireland break at Dublin City, aged 19.

Had things worked out better, he could have been given another break in England.

Homesickness led to his arrival home from Peterborough United as a teenager and while his aim was to get a second term across the water, trials with Coventry City, Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers failed to result in contract offers.

Killian Brennan Representing Ireland at U19 level in 2003. INPHO INPHO

Nevertheless, it’s not something he regrets: “As Bucko [Liam Buckley] says, ‘it is what it is’. I’ve had a great time in this country, winning leagues and cups and awards.”

A member of the double-winning Bohemians team of 2008, under Pat Fenlon, Brennan claimed his second league winners’ medal the following year. It’s a team he remembers fondly, one which he feels could better the Dundalk and Cork City sides of the modern era.

Over 14 of 15 years of my career, that was the best team I played in.

“We had some phenomenal players: Neale Fenn, Joey N’do, Brian Murphy, Owen Heary, Paul Keegan, Gary Deegan, Stephen O’Donnell… phenomenal players, some who went on to have good careers in England.”

Though, ultimately, he accepts that they failed to produce in Europe, an environment in which his Derry City team of years earlier thrived. The Candystripes were unable to land a league title, however, despite two prolonged tilts, in 2005 and 2006.

Killian Brennan celebrates after scoring a goal Celebrating a goal for Bohs in the 2009 League Cup final. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

His spell on Foyleside, which followed a departure from Dublin City, in 2004, gave him the chance to work with Stephen Kenny and a crop of fabulous local players. It was there were Brennan’s career took off.

“The midfield was myself, Ruaidhri Higgins, Gareth McGlynn, Kevin Deery — all 22 — and Barry Molloy. We were inexperienced, but we had players who had everything: guts, determination, skill and confidence in our ability; Stephen was confident in us, too.

He’s not afraid to have a go and that stood out for me, look at Dundalk over the past couple of years.

“I don’t think there is any player that played for Stephen Kenny that didn’t literally leave their heart out on the pitch for him; he drives that into you and gives you that belief. He’s a good lad, a nice man and a fair man as well.

“But, to be fair, I’ve played under fantastic managers — Pat Fenlon, Stephen Kenny and Liam Buckley. They’re probably the three most-decorated managers in the recent history of Irish football. I’m honoured.”

Killian Brennan Getting away from Shelbourne legend Owen Heary while at Derry City. INPHO INPHO

It was under Buckley were he landed his most-prized accolade. Ever heard of St Pats’ FAI Cup ‘curse’?

The 2014 FAI Cup final triumph against Derry was about more than just redemption for the players who lost to the Candystripes two years earlier, its significance ran palpably deeper. Ending the club’s 53-year wait for a Cup victory became all-consuming, a priority.

“There was nothing getting in our way that year — and we had a very good team of strong players.

“We wanted to just focus on winning it, on winning the final, never mind history or ‘a bad hoodoo’ over Pat’s winning the cup.

“I remember half-time and Christy Fagan was after missing a few 50-50 chances, but by his standards, we expected him to score. I said to Alan Reynolds in the toilets: ‘this is not going to be our year, again’, as negative as that sounds.

“But, as it turned out, it was and I had 70 and 80-year-old men coming up to me in tears; that kind of summed it up for me.

“A good friend of mine, John Cooney, his Dad had been to the seven previous finals where Pat’s had lost, but he couldn’t make it to that final due to sickness, which was crazy. I got my medal and brought it to him afterwards.

“You only kind of appreciate what it means when you go to meet those people.”

Killian Brennan 10/8/2018 Brennan in action for the Saints at Richmond Park last season. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

As a result, Pat’s is arguably the club closest to his heart and, having left to re-sign for Shamrock Rovers before moving on to his hometown outfit, Drogheda, in 2017, it is, perhaps, fitting that his career was to conclude back in Inchicore.

The transfer to the Saints stemmed from a disappointment, though — one of several. He broke his collarbone on his debut for Drogheda, the beginning of an injury run which resulted in a mid-season parting of ways, an occurrence made all the more frustrating given their subsequent relegation and the fact that among his team-mates were brothers Gavin and Seán.

And, while it seems quite strange given that he has won it all a few times over domestically, his medal return is another source of frustration. There should have been more.

I remember sitting down with Stephen Kenny at Shamrock Rovers one day and saying that ‘I only have this amount when I should have this amount’. I feel as if I should have won more.

“We got done for the treble at Derry on goal difference [2006], I moved on to Bohemians and we won back-to-back leagues and the FAI Cup. We brought five cups to Dalymount, but got beaten by Shamrock Rovers for three-in-a-row on goal difference [2010].

“I look back and say: ‘I should have five league medals, I should have six league medals’. It’s greedy because many lads haven’t won leagues, but those ones you miss are the ones that hurt.”

Killian Brennan In the green and white hoops of Shamrock Rovers. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

He is also left to question his versatility. A central midfielder in his youth, Brennan was moulded into a left-sided player by Kenny and remained on the flank until Buckley took him to St Pat’s in 2013, deploying him in his midfield role of preference. Had he asked to be played centrally earlier, how much more would he have got out of his career, he wonders.

But pride is his overwhelming feeling, a satisfaction at what he did achieve and at getting to play alongside brothers Gavin, Seán and Ryan at different stages.

He is grateful for what Irish football gave him, even if he feels it has become stagnant over the last decade.

Looking ahead, he is considering going back into education and doing his coaching badges, as well as spending time with his family and kids. The latter are three and five, and keen on football. It seems the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

Who knows, there could be another batch of Brennan brothers on the way…

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:

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