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Brennan: let's fix it for clubs

GER BRENNAN knows, better than anyone, how marathon club campaigns can wreak havoc with your inter-county ambitions. So when he urges the GAA to "start taking players' bodies" into account in devising its master fixtures plan, he is speaking with the voice of authority.

Last March he lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup. While Diarmuid Connolly was shooting the lights out at one end of Croke Park, his St Vincent's skipper gave a defensive sweeper masterclass at the other end in that electrifying All-Ireland decider against Castlebar Mitchels.

But his body was in revolt. He had undergone stomach muscle surgery the previous December, didn't feature in February's All-Ireland semi-final ... then missed Dublin's Leinster title defence following another early-summer operation to "tidy up" his ankle, as Jim Gavin explained at the time. He never made it back, recurring ankle problems leaving Brennan in dry dock for the entirety of Dublin's ultimately failed defence of Sam Maguire.

Now he's fit and motoring again and so are Vincent's, through to another Leinster club SFC final - against Offaly champions Rhode on December 14.

If Brennan had his way, however, mid-December would be the time for playing All-Ireland club finals in Croke Park, not provincial deciders in Navan.

The good news is that Central Council has already agreed, in principle, to accept the Football Review Committee's proposal to complete all club activity in the one calendar year, starting from 2016.

Now for the hard part - devising a workable fixtures schedule to make this feasible. In the meantime, St Vincent's must plough on, once more, potentially all the way to St Patrick's Day.

Last Sunday, against Garrycastle in Parnell Park, they did it the hard way, veering from cruise-control (ten points up after 25 minutes) to panic stations (level after 42) before steadying the ship to win by five. Afterwards, Brennan was asked how Vincent's were dealing with the gruelling challenge of chasing back-to-back glory.

"You really have to compartmentalise your thinking and focus in on each challenge as it comes," he replied. "Don't get caught up in the bigger picture, which can be overpowering in terms of your mental energy. That's something Tommy (Conroy) and the management team are very good at, keeping us tuned into each game."

But he then alluded to another big picture: "I think the GAA really do have the look at the fixture list in terms of having everything in one calendar year. I think it is a bit of a pain in the backside as a player.

"I know the GAA will probably argue in terms of trying to promote the game over the full 12 months, because there's a lot of competition with rugby and soccer and that's fine - but I think they need to start taking players' bodies into account as well."

No surprise, then, that he's a firm advocate of playing All-Ireland club finals in December.

"Absolutely, you need downtime," he stressed. "It (the All-Ireland club series) is effectively a pre-season, it's a new competition; whoever wins the provincials is going into a brand new competition, and telling lads not to go out and enjoy themselves over the Christmas period is pretty stupid.

DRAINING

"Then again, you do have to mind yourself because you're thinking 'What is the other team doing?' Mentally you're always thinking, even though you mightn't be playing, so that is certainly draining on the body. So I would certainly favour it, yeah."

Here's the rub: to complete the club season in December, you must squeeze the inter-county progamme.

Reflecting on those well-established All-Ireland dates - the first Sunday in September for the hurling, the third Sunday for the football - Brennan concluded: "Traditions are fine but there comes a time where how valuable is tradition in terms of player welfare, promoting the club game and giving club guys an opportunity? At the moment I think there's a massive imbalance there."

Moreover, he can see a direct correlation between his own recent injury travails and prolonged club/county campaigns blending into one.

"Any injury I've ever had has not been through collision really," Brennan pointed out. "In terms of the two injuries I've had, it's more chronic fatigue in terms of high-intensity training all year round without getting a break.

"I think myself and Diarmuid (Connolly) were going, I don't know how long, maybe 36 months and Diarmuid was the one (still) playing.

REHAB

"I was doing my bit of rehab in the background though I was still working hard on trying to get back in. Certainly it can take its toll."

By Brennan's own admission, Vincent's were "lucky" to escape with their Leinster crown intact against Garrycastle; he hopes it will serve as a wake-up call against Rhode.

Win that, though, and the Vincent's contingent will be consumed by club dreams until February at least ... a double-edged sword for some of their young tyros such as Gavin Burke, Shane Carthy and Mick Concarr harbouring ambitions of a senior Sky Blue breakthrough.

"There are young lads there looking to make a name for themselves," Brennan confirmed. "Traditionally, the O'Byrne Cup and the early league rounds are that opportunity ... if the season was condensed into one calendar year, it would facilitate young guys throughout the country making a go of it for their county."


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