Rose of Tralee: ‘I’m Elysha Brennan, not next Maria Walsh’

After an “absolutely breath-taking” couple of weeks, newly crowned Rose of Tralee Elysha Brennan plans to spend the next few days at home with family and friends. The Co Meath woman said she is overwhelmed with the win and needs to figure out what her next steps will be.

While the 22-year-old cancer survivor says she has big shoes to fill as Maria Walsh’s successor, she is confident of living up to high expectations.

“Maria Walsh has really just given me such a leg up. I’ll be standing on the shoulder of a giant, I really will. I want to emphasise that. She has just been so incredible,” said Elysha before she was whisked off to the Killarney Races.

“She has left the door wide open for me and has really broken the mould. She has brought new life to the competition and she has been such an amazing Rose of Tralee. But I can only put on my own pair of shoes and put my own stamp on this competition. I’m a different person, I’m Elysha Brennan. I’m not the next Maria Walsh, I’m the new Elysha Brennan,” she said.

Titles and tiaras aside, Elysha also revealed she was contacted by RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy after her love of the Late Late Show was brought up during the Rose of Tralee live shows.

“He rang me to wish me luck so he’s an absolute gentlemen, that was such a huge deal,” she said.

“Then today he texted me when I was in the car. Now I have Ryan Tubridy’s number! He said ‘And you only went on to win the thing, see you in and around the Late Late Show. All the best, Ryan.’”

At the moment, the blossoming rose is unsure if she will defer college for a year but thinks she might have to. She is going into her third- year studying medicine in Dublin at the Royal College of Surgeons.

“It’s a huge decision to make and I won’t be making it light-heartedly because I have amazing friends and when we started this journey I always thought I’d finish it with them and we’d be on stage graduating together but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Whether she defers a year or not, Elysha knows deep down her calling is to become a doctor and would even like to specialise in paediatric oncology, a branch of medicine that deals with children who have tumors. The rose said she sometimes gets “funny looks” when she tells people this, considering she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer, when she was 19.

“You can only go in the direction in which your heartstrings pull. And I suppose people look at me funnily and think after everything you’ve been through you’d want to go into the polar opposite field but my gut feeling and my heart just tells me that’s where my passion lies.”

Elysha is now more than two years in remission and, while she wants to help detach the stigma around cancer, said she doesn’t want the disease to define her.

“Cancer is a part of me, it’s not all of me. There’s so much more to Elysha Brennan than that story. I know it’s been a focus of the media attention but there are a lot of other strings to my bow.”

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