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Brennans Bred for Football

There is a band of Brennan brothers playing in the Airtricity League Premier Division this season. Three of the brothers are playing with their hometown club of Drogheda United and the remaining brother Killian Brenna is playing here at Shamrock Rovers.

Football obviously runs deep in the Brennan blood. “Football has been in my family for years,” said Killian, the oldest Brennan brother. “My father was a footballer and his Dad was a footballer as well. My Dad was a top player in the Leinster Senior League. I remember watching him when I was younger and I looked up to him. I used to travel around the country watching him play for Boyne Rovers. I used to try and do things that I saw him doing on the pitch.”

Killian’s brothers Ryan and Sean have joined Gavin at Drogheda this season. “It is great for the lads,” said Killian about his three brothers playing with Mick Cooke’s team. “Two of them came from Monaghan last year. They are flying at the moment. We have a bit of banter in the house! They love playing football. I know Ryan is progressing well. He is only 19 so he has a lot of years ahead of him. Hopefully he can get a couple of seasons under his belt and maybe get across the water.”

The three Brennan brothers play in midfield for Drogheda and that is normally where Killian also plays. However, he lined out at left back for Rovers last week against Shelbourne as Stephen Kenny made changes to his starting line up.
“Obviously Conor (Powell) got suspended against Cork and we didn’t have much cover at left back so Stephen asked me to play there,” said Brennan. “I knew the role as I’d played there a bit at school boy level. The last time I played left back was for Derry.”

Brennan had an excellent game helping the Hoops get their first clean sheet of the league campaign. As well as changing the team personnel, Stephen Kenny also had the team line out using a 4-2-3-1 formation. “The first few games we played 4-4-2 so we went a bit more attacking than before,” said Brennan. The set-up certainly helped the Hoops who ran out 4-0 winners over Shels, helped by the early sending off of the visitor’s goalkeeper. “I thought it was our best formation as we can play football with the team and the attacking options that we have. We’ve got players with speed on the wings and plenty of speed up front. We can utilise Billy Dennehy’s and Aaron Greene’s pace. We are going to be a handful for everyone.”

It is expected tonight’s match against Bohemians will be played out in front of another massive crowd. The large crowd at last week’s game with Shelbourne, which included President Michael D Higgins, meant the kick off was delayed for ten minutes due to crowd congestion. “The game the other night with 5,000 people coming to watch was fantastic,” said Brennan. “When we played in Cork, there was another great atmosphere. If we can get 5,000 people to come watch our games and maybe get more, it would be fantastic. You want to play in front of big crowds.”

It was a large crowd against Monaghan United for Rovers’ first home game of the season and Brennan played a crucial part in the Rovers win that night. Trailing 1-0 at half time, Rovers got back into the game thanks to a moment of inspiration from Brennan. He got on the end of Billy Dennehy’s corner to volley the ball into the net for the Rovers opener and the Hoops would go on to win 3-1.

“The ball came to me when I got a bit of freedom in the box and it was a side foot backheel. It was good to get off the mark. Monaghan played well that night so obviously it was a nice time to get the goal and get back to 1-1. It was a pivotal point in the game to score the goal and for it to be my first goal for Shamrock Rovers was brilliant as well.”

Whilst Rovers are top of the table tonight facing into a game against Bohs, who are surprisingly bottom having yet to score a league goal, it hasn’t been all plane sailing for Rovers. Rovers played Bohs in the Leinster Senior Cup and only progressed on penalties. Similarly, Rovers moved on to the Setanta Sports Cup semi final despite losing a 2-0 lead in the quarter final against Cliftonville. The Reds took Rovers all the way to penalties on their ‘plastic’ pitch. The story could have been different if one of Brennan’s shots off the post or crossbar had bounced favourably for Rovers.

“We are not making it easy for ourselves having gone to penalties against Bohs; that was 120 minutes and then we had another 120 minutes against Cliftonville. I thought we played quite well on the night (in Solitude). It was tough as they are not a bad side. Obviously they play on that surface every week and that is a big advantage to them. It was quite sticky and hard to run with the ball but I thought we played all right. They never really looked like scoring until they scored the first goal. They scored at important times as they got one just before half time and then just before full time.

“I thought we showed our character really well in extratime. We kept our heads and deservedly went through on penalties. The lads who took the penalties did very well. There is room for improvement. We mixed it up with lads coming into the team as some of the lads hadn’t played much this season.”

Oscar Jannson was the hero for the Hoops saving two penalties that night in Belfast, having saved two in the previous week during the 5-4 shoot out against Bohs in the Leinster Senior Cup at Tallaght Stadium. “Oscar has done brilliant since he came in with the two penalty saves against Bohs and also against Cliftonville. He will get great confidence out of that.”

Tonight Brennan will face his former club Bohemians for the first time since he made the switch from Dublin 7 to Dublin 24. He is not the only man involved with Rovers tonight who is a former Gypsy. Last season Bohemians lined out with six former Rovers players in their starting line up. This season Rovers can go the other way and more. Hoops boss Stephen Kenny managed Bohs previously and if we add in Kenny, his goalkeeping coach Stephen O’Brien and Brennan then Rovers have an ex-Bohemians XI with Conor Powell, Ken Oman, Colin Hawkins, Chris Turner, Stephen O’Donnell, Stephen Rice, Gary O’Neill and Aaron Greene.

However, unlike the other former Bohs players in the Rovers squad, Brennan is making the direct switch from the red and black stripes of Bohs to the Green and White hoops of Rovers. So what kind of reaction does he think he will get from the away fans tonight?

“I don’t really know what to expect,” said the Drogheda native. “I will understand if I get booed because I used to play for Bohs and now I play for Shamrock Rovers. The clubs are big rivals. It is all good on my side. I have a lot of mates there at the club. I will be looking out for them. I always hope they do well. If they can get things right off the pitch, then Bohs will come good again.

“I had four and a half great years at Bohemians but financial constraints behind the scenes for reasons that have been well documented means the money is gone. I felt that I couldn’t stay at Bohemians with what they could offer. I told a lot of managers that I was going to go travelling as that was the main aim for me at the start of the season”
It seems that, like with Pat Sullivan, Irish football was going to lose a player from the league due to his desire to travel. That was until his former manager got in touch with him in January. “I was packing my bags and going travelling until Stephen Kenny rang me and said he wanted me to come here. He was the main reason for signing for Shamrock Rovers but also that Rovers are a fantastic football club. I feel they are really the only club going forward in Ireland. Shamrock Rovers wanted to sign me and I’m delighted that I signed.”

Published in Hoops Scene 2012 Issue 4 (Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, 30 March 2012)

Since we last met…

Published in Hoops Scene 1/2012 (Shamrock Rovers v Cliftonville FC, March 5)

Reigning Airtricity League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers began their 2012 season last Friday when they travelled to Drogheda. This week Rovers have two home games as they begin their defence of the Setanta Sports Cup against Cliftonville and then play Monaghan United in their first home league game.

Whilst it is four months since Rovers retained that League of Ireland crown, it has been a short and eventful close season for the back-to-back champions. The curtain didn’t come down on the 2011 season for Rovers until the very late date of December 15th. On that night, the Hoops welcomed Harry Redknapp’s Spurs side to Tallaght for their final Europa League Group A game. That was Michael O’Neill’s final game in charge of the Hoops as Rovers then entered the market to replace the man now in charge of Northern Ireland.

Rovers looked north of the border for their new man, headhunting Stephen Kenny from Derry City. In the normal quiet period between Christmas and New Year, Kenny was unveiled in Tallaght Stadium as the new manager. He was soon casting his eye over his squad and getting most to put pen to paper to re-sign with Rovers for the 2012 season and was looking to bring in new blood along side them.

Photo by George Kelly

A number of players have left Rovers since last season. Those include all three goalkeepers, defender Pat Sullivan, who headed down under, former captain Dan Murray who was released and subsequently went back down south to Cork City and two players who went to England. Karl Sheppard headed to Reading and Enda Stevens to Aston Villa.

Early in January, Rovers unveiled a host of new signings at Tallaght Stadium including players very familiar to fans of the League of Ireland. Graham Gartland was a player that had come close to signing for Rovers last summer from Scottish side St. Johnstone. Injury prevented that happening back then but Kenny was quick to sign up the Tallaght native when the opportunity presented itself.

Left back Conor Powell came in from Sligo and he will be looking to build on his career honours to date that already include two league titles and two FAI Cups. Stephen Kenny brought in a player he managed when they were both at Derry City as Killian Brennan made the switch from the red and black stripes of Bohemians to the green and white hoops of Shamrock Rovers. Daryl Kavanagh came in up front from St. Patrick’s Athletic where he scored seven goals last season.

Kenny has also brought in plenty of new faces into the Rovers back room team. Colin Hawkins has been brought in as a player/coach with Stephen O’Brien returning for his second spell as the Shamrock Rovers goalkeeping coach. Stephen Glass is the new number two as Kenny brought in the man who he worked with as a player when he managed Dunfermline.

In the last few weeks, additional key signings were made including two new goalkeepers. Conor Winn came in from Galway United and Oscar Jannson signed on loan from Spurs. Jannson is rated highly at Tottenham but currently has the combined age total of 109 years in front of him in the ‘keeper pecking order with Friedal (40), Cudicini (38) and Gomes (31). Harry Redknapp was happy to send Jannson out on loan to Rovers having seen the set-up in Tallaght on his visit in December. The defensive and attacking options were also increased with former Arsenal player Kerrea Gilbert and Sligo player Aaron Greene added to the squad.

During pre-season Rovers played a series of friendlies against First Division opposition. In preparation for this week’s Setanta Cup game, they also played Irish League opposition, losing to Glentoran 2-1 in Belfast on St. Valentine’s Night. In addition the Hoops took the opportunity to take in a weeks training camp in the UK. The results got better with every home friendly match as Rovers doubled their goal tally with every game. They first beat Mervue United 1-0, next beat Wexford Youths 2-0, followed that up with a 4-0 win over Longford Town and finally thumped Waterford United 8-1. Expecting 16 goals tonight may be a bit much to ask for!

At the start of 2011, there was a certain level of expectation at Rovers but nobody could realistically have expected the success that the season brought. Along with retaining the league title and winning the Setanta Sports Cup at the first attempt, the season brought unparalleled success in Europe for an Irish club side. Their twelve game European campaign which saw Rovers play in the Europa League group stages means that there is an even higher level of expectation this year.

Stephen Kenny will need to manage that expectation level and hasn’t made, and isn’t likely to make, any rash predictions as to what 2012 will bring. “I will be trying to win matches and challenge for trophies,” said Kenny. “You want to be as successful as you can. I’m looking forward to coming here to put out a team to play exciting football.” The fans in Tallaght Stadium will get their first chance this week of seeing how Kenny’s exciting football fares in competitive football.