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'You go from winning Player of the Season to knowing next week you'll be collecting your dole'

Killian Brennan chats to The42 about the new season ahead with his hometown club.

Killian Brennan.
Killian Brennan.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

WHAT’S IMMEDIATELY NOTICEABLE about Killian Brennan is his willingness to speak his mind. When you ask him a straight question he gives a straight answer.

Kicking our conversation off with a standard query about how pre-season is going, he gives an insightful response: “It seems to be going alright,” he says, before adding: “We’ve been on all-weather 4G pitches, which isn’t ideal.”

Unlike certain athletes, there is no sense of a person whose answers are finely crafted exercises in PR or hollow clichés inspired by countless hours of media training.

The Drogheda midfielder is someone whose family is steeped in football — two of his brothers, Gavin and Sean, also play for Pete Mahon’s side, while another, Ryan, will line out for Bray this season.

Now 33, Brennan has enjoyed a decorated career in the League of Ireland. Among the highlights are three league titles (two with Bohs, one with Pat’s), three FAI Cups (with Derry, Bohs and Pat’s respectively) and five League of Ireland Cups (three with Derry and one each with Pat’s and Bohs). There have been no shortage of individual honours either, including a spot on the PFAI Team of the Year in 2008 and 2013, while also winning PFAI Players’ Player of the Year amid the culmination of the latter season.

The fact that he worked with some of the league’s most renowned managers in recent years undoubtedly helped him achieve such success. He cites Liam Buckley, Pat Fenlon and Stephen Kenny as three of the best past coaches he worked under.

Edouard Cisse of PSG tackles Killian Brennan of Derry Brennan is tackled by Edouard Cisse of PSG during Derry's memorable 2006 Uefa Cup run. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

After starting off his career with the now-defunct Dublin City, Brennan left after a year to play under Kenny at Derry City. The player subsequently caught the eye with the Candystripes, featuring in a memorable Uefa Cup run in 2006 that included victories over IFK Göteborg and Gretna FC, along with a 0-0 draw at home to French giants PSG.

Kenny, of course, has since gone on to bigger things, and it is no surprise Brennan holds the current Dundalk boss in high esteem, notwithstanding their disappointing second spell together at Shamrock Rovers amid a disastrous 2012 campaign.

“I’m a great admirer of Stephen,” he tells The42. “He brought me to Derry in 2004. I was there for three-and-a-half seasons. In between that time, he had moved to Dunfermline.

He was wonderful to play for as a manager. I never really realised at the time, but he seemed to get where he gets with the young players. He seems to get the very best out of young players.

“The players (at Dundalk), I wouldn’t say he was struggling to get a team, but they weren’t top players three years ago and they are now.

The lads behind the scenes, the fitness coaches, they have done wonderfully. They’ve worked hard over the last three seasons to be where they are and fair play to them. And Stephen’s been the driving force behind that, being the manager.”

Manager Stephen Kenny Brennan worked under Stephen Kenny at Derry and Shamrock Rovers. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In between the stints at the two Kenny-managed clubs, Brennan enjoyed plenty of success with Bohemians. In three years there, he won two Premier Division titles and an FAI Cup. During this period, he was also linked with moves across the water to Celtic, Derby and Coventry, going on trial with the latter.

Yet aside from a year in his teens with Peterborough at youth level — a period which he now admits was hampered by homesickness — Brennan has spent his entire career playing football in Ireland.

Following the Shamrock Rovers disappointment, the Louth native recovered with arguably the best year of his career, in which he helped Pat’s win a league title — their first since 1999.

In 2013, his first year with the Saints, Brennan played a pivotal role in leaving his old boss Kenny frustrated. He produced a number of influential displays to help his side pip Dundalk to the league title by three points. However, even then, Brennan says, he could sense the Lilywhites’ immense potential as a team.

To be fair, over the last three years, I couldn’t see anyone beating Dundalk — I’m not just saying this because they won the last three leagues. When we beat them for the league in 2013 with St Pat’s, you could tell then that they were strong and that in another year, they were going to be a serious outfit and would keep on progressing, which they have done.”

After claiming the PFAI Player of the Year award in the wake of St Pats’ title success, Brennan spoke openly to reporters about the harsh realities of being a League of Ireland footballer, with the off-season dreaded by most players who suddenly have ample extra hours to fill and no more wages to show for it.

Four years on and not much has changed, according to Brennan. In fact, from a personal viewpoint, the situation has become more difficult, with Drogheda unable to offer the same kind of wages as the top Irish sides, for whom Brennan is accustomed to playing.

It is quite depressing,” he says. “You go from the highs of winning the league or Player of the Season to knowing next week you’re going to be collecting your dole money or you’re going to go into a part-time job. It’s all dependent on what kind of team you sign for in the off-season. Obviously, the wages at Bohs and Pat’s would have been decent enough wages to tie you over on 40-week contracts.

“At Drogheda, it would be more like 32, 33-week contracts. Trying to tie that in with a job, maybe a nine-to-five job, and you go training three nights a week and play one night a week — it’s not easy work.

You have to take your hat off to some players, they’ve been doing that for the last nine, 10, 11 years. I’ve been a professional in this country. You turn up for training at nine o’clock and you’re finished at one o’clock pretty much every day, whereas the likes of the Drogheda players, the part-time clubs, they work their nine-to-five jobs and then they’re probably travelling an hour to go and train for two hours. They travel back and by the time they get in the door to see their kids, they could be in bed. So it is a hard old graft — I take my hat off to the lads that have done that.”

Source: stpatsfctv/YouTube

Consequently, Brennan is currently hoping to find a job with flexible hours that will allow time off if necessary for his football commitments.

It’s somewhere where I find myself now, where I have to tie a job in with playing football with Drogheda United,” he says. “But again, it’s something that I’m looking forward to. I probably won’t see the kids as much but there’ll be food on the table for them — that’s all that matters, providing for your family.

“All the teams I’ve been at in Derry, St Pat’s, Bohs, we’ve always had the chance to devote ourselves to the game. There should never have been any excuses from any of the players I played with over the years. They were on full-time professional contracts — not silly money, money to get you by is all it was. Unless you’re on 52-week contracts, which are few and far between.

It is hard work but some players can get their rest while others are doing their nine-to-fives. If you have a day off, you can stay in bed, you can do what you need to do. But if a lad is doing a nine-to-five, he’s up early doors.

“(Because of this issue) I can’t see the gap (between the big and small clubs) disintegrating, I think it’s only going to get bigger, especially if Dundalk and Cork and all those teams keep upgrading and improving.”

And while there is an inevitable degree of trepidation about representing a newly promoted side whose resources are naturally inferior to most if not all of their competitors, Brennan remains excited and enthusiastic about the prospect of playing for Drogheda.

(Pete Mahon) didn’t really have to sell it to me,” he adds. “I always wanted to play for my hometown club so it didn’t matter if it was Pete or (assistant boss) John Gill, who I worked with before as well.

“I only met Pete once, I spoke to him on the phone a few times. After five minutes, I knew that I wanted to sign. He’s a really down-to-earth man and I wouldn’t say he’ll wind down this side of my career, he’s just really easy to get on with. It was easy to talk and we’ve been getting on great for the last month or so of pre-season, and long may that continue.

He continues: “In any team that I’ve played with, you say to yourself before the start of the season: ‘What would be a good season for us? What would be a bad season? Do you hope to win a cup? Do you hope to finish in Europe?’

We haven’t had the conversation yet, but with the three teams going down, it’s going to be quite hard (to avoid) on the budget that Drogheda were given. It’s going to be quite tough to stay up, but if we can stay up or get a run in the cup, it’d be a great season for us.”

Source: Stuart Nicholls/YouTube

Having recently turned 33, Brennan is well aware that the end of his career is not too far away, particularly given that he usually plays as an attacking midfielder.

The former Ireland underage international has spoken in previous interviews about a potential future in coaching, though Brennan is yet to be fully convinced that this job is for him.

“It’s something that I haven’t actually done, which I probably should have done,” he admits. “Looking at it now, I probably should at least have my B license.

The whole thing just depresses me a little bit because if I’m a number two to someone, going in at Bohemians or Drogheda United, does that pay the bills?

“From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t, so you need your job to fit in around all that stuff as well. If you have your B licence or A licence, doors open up for you. You don’t necessarily have to stay in this country, you can go to England, you can go to America.

It depends on your personal circumstances as well — if you have kids, if you haven’t got kids, if you can travel.

“I’d be looking down the road at doing my badges, starting this year, and probably looking at somewhere abroad, because I don’t see it here.

I’d love to start teaching kids — seven, eight, nine-year-olds — and seeing if I like that. I think I’d get more enjoyment from helping young kids progress than actually going in to a League of Ireland set-up.”

Returning to the subject of former boss Kenny and his unprecedented achievements with Dundalk, he adds: “He can probably sit back and put his feet up a little bit now, even though he won’t rest on his laurels knowing him.

Fair play to him, because he’s worked quite hard, but (management) is very psychologically demanding. You have to nearly be besotted with it — I’m not there yet, but maybe in time I might be.

“I’m just relaxed about it and at 33, still trying to enjoy my football and do well for the team I’m playing for.”

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