August 11, 1995
The Last Man To Captain Galway To A National Football Title
It's a Connacht Championship clash between Leitrim and Galway in Carrick-on-Shannon. The year is '83 and Leitrim are pushing the Connacht champions all the way. Neck and neck with just minutes remaining, the game is available to either team - but its Galway who deliver the winning blows.
Or Barry Brennan actually. The Ballinasloe man swings over two beauties with his trademark left foot in quick succession and Galway come through intact. Fast forward to June '95, same venue same teams. Again, it's down to the wire but Leitrim lead by two with 67 minutes on the clock. Galway's saviours this time are Jarlath Fallon, Sean de Paor and Niall Finnegan, all three tacking on a point each to dethrone the defending provincial champions.
Both scenarios are similar but it would be deeply misleading to think that they indicate a certain continuity over the years since '83. Indeed the opposite is the case because a lot has changed for Galway football since the move opulent days of Brennan's era.
He and Galway were in the middle of a Connacht three in a row in '83 and he went on to win two more in '86 and '87 to finish his career with five Connacht titles. In retrospect, it looks like something of a golden era for Galway, particularly in light of their failure to win another title for the next eight years.
At the time however, they were more criticised for failing to progress beyond All-Ireland semi finals in those years except, of course, for '83 when they met Dublin in perhaps the most infamous All-Ireland final of all time.
Galway had lost to Offaly by one point in the semi final a year earlier and were confident of taking the ultimate prize against a relatively inexperienced Dublin outfit the following year. What transpired however broke all the rules, all the norms, with Dublin being reduced to twelve men and Galway to fourteen.
Brennan lined out in his customary right half forward position that day and that tempestuous game is embedded clearly in his memory. "Everyone talks about twelve beating fourteen but we weren't prepared for that. Our tactics were wrong, we didn't use our extra men, there was a certain naivety about our play - we didn't even talk about it at half time".
He maintains however that the team of '83 was not as good as it was in '82. "That was our best team. There was a good mixture of new younger guys like Guy McManus, Tomas Tierney, Mattie Coleman, Richie Lee and Val Daly and a very strong influence from the older players like Seamus McHugh, Johnny Hughes, Billy Joyce and Brian Talty".
Brennan had won an All-Ireland Minor title in 1976 alongside Coleman and McManus and made his Senior Championship debut in 1980 when he actually had the distinction of captaining the team. Ballinasloe had won the county title in 1979 and made it all the way to the All-Ireland club final, beating Walsh Island of Offaly (powered by the Connor clan) before losing to St. Finbarr's of Cork.
That 1983 defeat to Dublin is widely perceived to be the pivotal moment in the decline of Galway football, the day it lost it's traditional self-confidence as a major power in the national game. It's a consensus however which Barry Brennan adamantly rejects.
"I wouldn't agree with that at all. Definitely not. It was only after 1987 - four years later - that Galway stopped winning Championships. We won again in '84, '86 and '87. The problem was that we just didn't have enough class players coming through, we just didn't replace the team of the early 80's".
According to Barry, a much more retrograde development was the decision by team management in 1988 to discard with the services of older players in favour of a young policy with Tomas Tierney, for example, going on to play for Mayo. "There was a bit of a clean-out and I think that was a great mistake. Meath and Dublin preserved with their older players and they won their with a core of veterans.
"Galway's problem since '87 was that guy had got the habit of losing at provincial level. At least if you win your province you're in with a shout".
As it turned out, Brennan's career ended prematurely just short of his 29th birthday when his right Achilles tendon "snapped" in the All-Ireland semi final replay against Cork. Larry Tompkins had earlier converted a long range free to earn Cork the replay which they duly won in comprehensive style. But for Brennan, it was the end of the road.
He had chronic Achilles problems going back to '83 and needed an operation in '84 to mend further damage. The recurrence in '87 was the final straw but it had been a decent innings: Five Connacht titles, two county medals, and one All-Ireland final appearance was not a bad haul and Brennan, in addition, also captained Galway to a National League title in 1981. He remains the last Galway captain to win a national football title of any sort.
"Work", he says "kind of took over" after his football finished. He had worked as a sales rep. with Adidas and this was followed by a successful career with Wrangler where he graduated from National Marketing Director to Group Marketing Director for Europe. That job took him to London first and then to Brussels and it was from Brussels he returned in late '94 to take up a new post with Independent Newspapers in Dublin as Group Marketing Director.
"It was an exciting change for me to move from a hard consumer product like jeans to newspapers but the disciplines in terms of function don't change very much. It's a very competitive market. We have very aggressive competition from the UK titles who have a very competitive pricing strategy and better colour facilities, so the competition is strong".
He believes that their gaelic games coverage is a "critical" factor in the circulation battle. "It's very important. Take the Irish Independent. It has such strong appeal across the country with a strong rural leadership and the Irish Independent would owe a lot of its strength to consistent Gaelic games coverage. In any given day you could have anything from one to four pages of GAA coverage.
"Then in the Sunday Independent we have quality writers like David Walsh, Tommy Carr, Peter Finnerty and Kevin Cashman and that's a very strong editorial commitment to gaelic games. So I would say that our Gaelic games coverage is critical".
Barry's stint with Wrangler in London two years ago coincided with a brief resurgence in his football career where he won a London and UK title with Tir Chonaill Gaels. They were beaten by Castlebar Mitchels in the All-Ireland club quarter final but his season in London, he says, was one of the most enjoyable of his career.
The players that stand out in his memory are Clom Browne of Laois, Danny Murray of Roscommon, Niall Cahalane, Paidi O'Se, Matt Connor ("I rated him very highly"), Mike Sheehy, Pat Spillane and Latterly Clom O'Rourke.
He has been following Galway's progress very closely this year and says the coaching of Liam Sammon is discernible in their style of play. "I think thry're being well-coached tactically. They're playing a good possession game, not just kicking it away aimlessly. They've got two very good defenders in Gary Fahy and Sean de Paor and I like their forwards especially Val Daly and Jarleth Fallon.A lot is going to depend on Daly. When you go into Croke Park you need his sort of experience".
But is there any danger they'll "bottle" it. They've had some very high matches in Connacht and they didn't bottle it. I Think the question is about their ability to score but I think they'll give a good account of themselves against Tyrone. I honestly believe they have a good fifty/fifty chance".
And what about the support from Galway? Will they stay away or will they come out in numbers? I think it's coming back and I hope it keeps improving. I think the blood-letting over the last seven years has come to an end".
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine
11th August, 1995
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