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Cult Heroes: 'Barnhall Bruiser' made a considerable mark on the game at home and abroad

 

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Trevor Brennan lifts the Heineken European Cup for Toulouse in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Trevor Brennan lifts the Heineken European Cup for Toulouse in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Trevor Brennan lifts the Heineken European Cup for Toulouse in Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

There are some things you just never forget.

It was one of those nights in Old Belvedere rugby club, sitting upstairs, past the bar on the left and the small office on the right, in the big room at the end with a long window that provided the perfect view of the Floodlit Cup.

It was November 19, 1996. Outside, on this particular evening, it was Bective Rangers' turn to take on Blackrock College in the Floodlit Cup quarter-final.

The lively conversation was interrupted by a gasping crowd, heads turning towards the Anglesea Road end of the pitch.

The floodlights were shining on a pair of protagonists going at it, like two pugilists in a 1960s title fight, the steam rising from their bodies.

Mike Brewer, just one year out of winning the last of 32 caps for the All Blacks, was trading blows with a tall, frenzied figure.

Even from a distance, it was impossible to ignore the ferocity of the blows, neither man flinching nor buckling to the floor.

Knuckles

When the disagreement had come to an end, the red card was flashed and the two returned to the sheds, their knuckles sore and their night done.

At the final whistle, I made my way downstairs to the dressing-rooms. There were facts to be double-checked: scorers, replacements, the usual.

The Bective door was shut. A man with a cap stood outside. The conversation went something like this.

"Ah, I am from the papers, just looking to check some details."

"Oh yeah, you might be a while."

"Oh right, any reason?"

"Not really."

"How is the lad that was involved in the row?"

"Oh, Trevor, he's grand. It's not the first time and it won't be the last."

It was the first time I saw Trevor Brennan (below) in action - then 23 years of age and hell-bent on making his name, it seemed by taking someone else's.

The 'Barnhall Bruiser', as he came to be known, was the poster boy for how the Leinster Youths could provide a country edge that could be moulded into the 'enforcer' every club needed.

The next Leinster player to bring that serrated edge was Seán O'Brien, the intent making Brennan a man you wanted beside you, not facing you.

Given the times, in hindsight, it was no surprise to see his fearless, physical presence appreciated more in France than in Ireland.

The difference between Brennan and O'Brien was that the latter nearly always got his shots in within the framework of the rules.

Too many times the Leixlip man lost control and engaged in the kind of high -profile 'disagreements' that cameras managed to catch.

Even when the evidence proved otherwise, the brawling reputation of Brennan tagged him as the perpetrator.

This was the case at the 1999 Rugby World Cup at Lansdowne Road when Ireland and Australia engaged in a video nasty, Brennan and Toutai Kefu rising from the ground and getting to know each other.

David Wilson and Jeremy Paul pinned Brennan's arms back as Kefu wailed away in an incident in which the Wallaby No 8 threw the first and final punches.

Referee Clayton Thomas and touch judge Brian Campsall had a discussion and the decision was made - penalty Australia - ahead of both men being cited and suspended, Kefu for 14 days and Brennan for 10.

It was the last time Brennan started for his country and his role at Leinster was limited around concerns that he could not be trusted to keep his cool.

Blasting

Those crowd-pleasing moments, the blasting of bodies, were not as valuable as the cost they came to.

The move to the more barbaric environment of the Top 14 in France, when he joined Toulouse in the summer of 2002, gave Brennan an environment that celebrated his willingness to stand up for his new team-mates.

It was what made him a cult hero in Toulouse for five years until baiting from an Ulster supporter led to a volcanic explosion, Brennan going into the crowd to sort out the culprit.

He quickly made another pre-emptive strike, announcing his retirement ahead of the disciplinary hearing confirming a life ban, later reduced to five years.

Just like that he was gone, but not forgotten.

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