September 25, 1992
Waterford's Johnny Brenner has Tipp's Declan Ryan Tommy Dunne and team mate Fergal Hartley for company during the 1996 Munster SHC
The driving force
Behind Waterford's quest for glory
By Daragh O'Conchuir
On the morning of the Under 21 All-Ireland Final, a certain scribe in one of the Sunday newspapers maintained that Waterford could win, if Johnny Brenner could rid himself of a tendency to "coast" for periods of the game. Well, I don't know that Johnny has a tendency to coast during a game but he certainly didn't do so on the 13th September last against the last of Offaly. Along with the durable Tom Fives, he lorded midfield, thus ensuring a regular flow of possession into the forward. He was colossus amongst the men who did the Decies proud. He scored all of Waterford's points. To date he has been the most consistent performer (along with Sean Daly) in this team and he must repeat his superhuman performance of the drawn game, if Waterford are to retain any hope of victory.
Peter Power is a man who is widely respected in the county for the work he has done, teaching and promoting the skills of hurling. He also coaches the Under 21 team. He speaks very highly of Brenner. "He is one of the deep thinkers of the game; he is very organised and extremely methodical. He remains completely in control of himself and is, of course, a good fielder. He is a pleasure to train." Power feels that Brenner always showed promise, from the time he played midfield in the Tommy Forrestal tournament (under 14) for Waterford in Walsh Park in 1985. Another man, who is also deeply involved in Waterford G.A.A., recalled to me how impressed he was with Brenner that day. He maintains that Johnny Brenner remains one of the best underage centre fielders he has ever seen, and that was not lightly said.
The Brenner family is immersed in the affairs of the De La Salle hurling club. Eamonn Fitzgerald, who is secretary of the club, explained to me how it was. Johnny's father, Ger, has been involved for years. He presently holds a position, as the club's PRO. His mum, Charlotte, is in the Ladies Committee. His brother Gerry plays in midfield next to him, while two other brothers are on the fringes.
Its no surprise, therefore, to hear Fitzgerald say that he is a great clubman and that Del La Salle's recent upsurge in fortunes has coincided with the rise of Johnny Brenner. When Brenner says that the club is at the basis of hurling it doesn't sound ridiculous. You know that he really means it and that his club will get the same effort as he will give in Nowlan Park next Sunday. The success story started in 1985 with the Under 14's when De La Salle were beaten by Lismore in the county final. Two years later they lost the Under 16 county final to the same opposition. This was followed by a victory in the Under 16 Kilmacud Crokes 7-a-side tournament. They finally received their just rewards in 1989, when they annexed the Minor title after a mighty battle against - you've guessed it, Lismore! Brenner was outstanding that day from the middle of the field.
In 1990 De La Salle made a real breakthrough when they won the Intermediate Championship by a point under Brenner's inspirational captaincy (at the tender age of 19). This was followed by a victory over Roanmore in the Sargent Cup last year. Once again Brenner was the captain. It is evident that the club is making giant strides and that Brenner's presence has had a lot to do with it. He himself believes that with a young team, the Senior title can be won in a few years time, and he is fully committed to the cause.
When Johnny was growing up he didn't have any real idols, besides Davy Duggan. This mirrored the state of the Waterford hurling at the time. The two hurlers he really admired were from outside the county and, naturally enough they were midfielders - John Fenton (Cork) and Joachim Kelly (Offaly). Joey Carton, presently manager of the Waterford Under 21's, was his first trainer at the club. Other influences included Sonny Walsh, John Baron, but most importantly, Davy Duggan. The young Brenner would go up to the field to meet Duggan, who passed on tips and always reminded the lads of the glory days. He does not dismiss the importance of his nurturing, and believes that everyone needs a role model to look to and more importantly, to learn from.
A future in the county colours always beckoned for Johnny. He was on the Tony Forrestal team for two years. He played divisional hurling at Under 16. This was followed by two years as a county Minor and now he is completing his third term of Under 21 hurling for Waterford. He made his breakthrough into the Senior team last year and this he says took the most work. Brenner likes to point out that the recent 'successes' of the Waterford hurling teams have not been overnight phenomena. He indicates the trojan work that Joey Carton, Peter Power and many more dedicated souls have done at Underage level. The big difference he feels between this Waterford team and their predecessors is the presence of belief. In the past the only thing Waterford teams believed was that they would get annihilated. This lack of self-confidence should no longer exist.
The analysis of a game is of paramount importance to Brenner. He believes that it would be a gross oversight were he to neglect this. After every match he plays, he knows what he did right, and more to the point, what he did wrong. He identifies his problems and mistakes and tries to deal with them. When he goes out the next day he's determined to cut out the mistakes, although he admits that he doesn't always succeed. However, he is looking to improve his game the whole time and that cant be a bad thing.
It is interesting to hear what Brenner has to say about the drawn game, given that he has been so deeply involved, on psychological, as well as on a physical level. He lauded the Offaly half back line for their collectively sterling performances. Waterford's forwards just got no time on the ball and that was something they weren't used to. Offaly combined their obvious skill with a seel which Waterford were unprepared for. Interestingly, he claims that the Decies were lucky to get a draw, but he thinks that they will be better equipped for the upcoming challenge.
I put it to Johnny that there was extra pressure on the players, because of the mixture of euphoria and expectation within the county. Naturally, he disagreed with me totally! He will be nervous before the game but that is because he is due to play in an All Ireland final. He is adamant that it will have noting to do with Waterford peoples craving for success. It helps, of course, that they have been steered clear of the media hype by their mentors. Johnny himself says that he doesn't particularly like the publicity aspect of the 'big time' and it feels that it didn't do the county minors any good.
Fitzgibbon Cup with the U.C.C. has, of course, given Brenner further experience of high-pressured games. This year he is entering his final year of studies (his fourth) in an effort to gain a degree in microbiology. He hopes to follow up with a Masters. His views on the clash between his studies and his hurling are forthright. "I made a decision when I was going to college that I was going to get a degree, and while I love playing hurling, its not going to interfere with my college life. I'm there to get the degree." This year was the most difficult yet in terms of study. He played Fitzgibbon Cup and took part in Waterford's entire League programme. Finally, it came to the stage when he thought he was doing too much training and he said he had to take a break to concentrate on his studies. So he just stopped playing hurling altogether until he completed his exams. Once they were over he made himself available again to the Senior panel and that's the end of it as far as he is concerned. He actually feels it was good for him, because he probably wouldn't be as fresh as he is at this stage of the season were it not for his break. When Eamonn Fitzgerald said that this young man was a very practical person with the right priorities, he wasn't he wasn't kidding.
But all that is behind him now. The focus now is defiantly on meeting Brian Whelehan and his men for the second time in a fortnight. It would be very difficult for the game to produce the same excitement as the drawn one but lets face it, Waterford wont care if they have the cup! You hear Brenner speak of how his team has grown together. Eleven of his team were playing county minor four years ago. They are now a tightly knit group akin to a family. He says that they're as surprised as anyone to be contesting an All Ireland Final but shur now that they are they might as well win it. They've trained hard enough anyway. They wont give in easily.
If they do leave Nowlan Park next Sunday as All Ireland Champions, I'm sure that a lot of large bottles will be raised to (and bought for) Johnny Brenner. And he'll be wearing his distinctive green helmet which he has since he was "about nine". It was broken in the first game and he was genuinely very upset afterwards. He didn't want to go into battle without his trusty companion (he has never worn another helmet!). Much to his delight, he found somebody who fixed it and like Johnny, it'll be ready for the 27th. And he promises - he wont be coasting!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
25th September 1992
Most Read Stories