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Sunday 20 August 2017

Expect Kerry to mix it - Brennan

Dubs defender knows the Kingdom will be prepared

THERE is no good time, in the height of summer, for a GAA star to pick up a suspension. Except, perhaps, this ...

Ger Brennan was sent off midway through the first half of the 2009 Leinster football final. Fourteen Dubs held out against Kildare, in thrilling fashion, to qualify for that year's All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Next up Kerry on the August Bank Holiday Monday. A Kerry team that had limped from one mini-crisis to the next during a fraught qualifier run. A once-great Kerry team supposedly primed for the plucking by Pat Gilroy's buoyant Blues.

Yet because of that straight red card, Brennan was "in the stand, watching it. I had a nice Cornetto that day!" he quips.

Meanwhile, down below, his colleagues were being creamed by Kerry to the tune of 17 points. Meltdown city.

This was the second year running that Dublin had entered the All-Ireland series touted as potential champions only to implode at the last-eight stage against an allegedly faltering giant. For Kerry '09, read Tyrone '08, the game that signalled the end of Paul Caffrey's four eventful years in the Dublin hotseat.

"I wouldn't read media before the games as you can get distracted," Brennan points out. "But, looking back now and over previous seasons – particularly with Pillar when he was manager – Dublin were the 'next best thing' and I think lads got quite caught up with that within the squad and that affected their performances.

"We duly received those lessons but it took us a long time to learn from them – up until Pat came in really, to be honest."

Brennan is now under his third Dublin manager. While he missed that nightmarish quarter-final against Kerry in '09, he was the centre-back mainstay when Gilroy's 'startled earwigs' achieved the ultimate revenge – and redemption – with their spectacular comeback victory over Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland final.

Twenty-three months on, it's a different Dublin cut to Jim Gavin's specifications but a certain St Vincent's stalwart remains as his on-field director of defensive operations.

Brennan is acutely aware of the history attached to Dublin/Kerry, the rich tapestry that drapes the build-up to Sunday's latest instalment of this epic rivalry. But as a player, he argues, "you're not afforded that privilege to get caught up in nostalgia. You really have to focus on the present".

Still, surely it helps that Dublin's last championship encounter with the green-and-gold ended in victory, thus ending a 34-year summer hoodoo?

"Yeah, I suppose it does, in fairness," Brennan reflects. "But I don't know if it impacts too much on this Dublin panel, because a lot of the young lads coming up don't get caught up in it.

"It was a monkey off the back to win the All-Ireland certainly, and Kerry were the opposition on that day. But it didn't really matter that it was Kerry. It didn't matter who it was. It was just great to win the All-Ireland."

The counter-argument goes that Kerry will relish the chance of having a crack at the team that sucker-punched them in 2011?

"You're asking the wrong person," Brennan maintains. "I'd say the Kerry lads, if they're honest, would say 'yeah'. Talking to the media, they'd probably say 'no' and spoof you. The answer is probably yes."

Now 28, Brennan has been around the inter-county block long enough to realise that you must be prepared for every eventuality when Kerry come to town. He attributes their early-spring malaise to the absence of many senior stars but reckons they have subsequently "galvanised" as a group.

And, no matter what has been said of their recent lulls against Cork and Cavan, Kerry always have "excellent footballers" who require constant watching.

"They get the ball up quite cleverly to their inside forward-line. They have the option of high ball in or playing it in low as well – which is worrying as a defence, because quite often a team might just have one tactic.

"I know the last day, Cork hit an awful lot of high ball (against Dublin) and didn't seem to change it too much. But Kerry, I don't think, will do that. They'll mix it up quite well, so it will keep us on our toes."

Which begs the question whether Cork (and Meath before) spied a perceived Dublin weakness under the high ball?

"Well, the last two teams are not in the championship," replies Brennan in classic checkmate fashion.

"I've heard stuff – 'the full-back line is struggling underneath the high ball' – but the results have shown that we're winning matches.

"As a half-back line and midfield, you try to come in and support your full-backs as well. That's something we've continually worked on since January."

This Sunday, though, Brennan may have enough on his plate curtailing the 'Gooch' – presuming, of course, that Kerry persist with their ploy of playing Colm Cooper at centre-forward.

"Watching Colm over this particular season, he seems to have a new lease of life," his likely man-marker ventures.

"He's an extremely talented footballer. From the times he was playing in the inside line, as a defender you were hoping just to push him back or get him to pass the ball off, because you knew you weren't going to get it off him really – it was going to be a score, or a wide, which isn't too often for him."

His own preference for where Cooper plays? "I don't really care, to be honest. Whoever's in there is in there."

Four years since 'Gooch' reignited Kerry's flame with that first-minute goal, the big question now is whether Kerry are capable of a similar ambush against a hotly-fancied and in-form Dublin.

Yet as Brennan counters: "I don't think we've had those consistent performances, to be honest now. I think there's an awful lot we can improve in our game.

 

OPPORTUNITIES

"Up front we're creating a good few opportunities and we're not converting them, so we have a lot to polish up on.

"Kerry are Kerry – they may have poor games, they may have strong games, but they win most of the time. So I would never get caught up with the performance of a Kerry team because you know, when you're playing against them, they have such a strong panel of players."

So then, you have to expect their A-game? "You do – and you hope that's what they bring, because you want to beat the best."

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