Brennan talks about readjusting to life after inter-county football.
"I’m now feeling that my sense of identity has been altered. I feel like I’m entering a new phase in my life, that I’m going somewhere where I’ve never been before. It feels strange, especially now that the weather is beginning to heat up and the championship is getting going. There is a disharmony between the reality of the present and the reality of my past. And it’s as if my subconscious is asking me: why are you not getting ready for championship?"
Ger Brennan — All-Ireland winning captain — played for the Dublin senior football team from 2006 until he left the panel after last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Fermanagh.
By the time he left, Brennan was no longer able to contribute in the way he wished.
“Because of the injuries I still wasn’t able to train fully by the quarter-finals. I watched the match from the stand with the rest of players who were in the squad but not togged out. I didn’t go down to the dressing room afterwards. It’s not that I couldn’t have faced it. It’s more that I was so used to playing, so used to contributing on the field. I just felt that anything I had to say now would lose any strength or validity by the fact that I was still injured. I couldn’t match my words with action on the pitch. And that was it.”
The first of his injury problems had actually begun in 2013 when he tore a lower abdominal muscle during the warm-up before a league game against Donegal in Ballybofey.
“I got through the season with injections. We won the All-Ireland and then went straight back to the club. We won Dublin, then won Leinster. I had an operation the day after the Leinster final on the ninth of December 2013 and made it back in time and we won the All-Ireland Club. But, in the run-in to those games, I’d hurt my Achilles.
“I said nothing because I was just back and I just wanted to play. So I kept going – and I wouldn’t change a thing about that.”
The games kept on coming:.
“I went back in with Dublin about 10 days after winning the club All-Ireland. We had a league game coming up with Mayo and I really wanted to play. But I did something to my Achilles. I had surgery on that in the middle of April and faced into an eight to 12-week recovery. The plan was to be back for the Leinster final. I never made it, though. I got a setback after eight weeks and it never came right.”
And so it was that he watched on as Donegal dismantled Dublin in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.
“It was hugely frustrating sitting on the sidelines for that. Just very, very frustrating. If you ask any player could they make a difference to a losing team they will say of course they could. So, naturally, I think the same. I think some of my strengths were the ability to read the game, to sense the danger, to work out the patterns of play that are coming. I suppose I’d hope I would have worked to close up the defence a bit. Very frustrating.”
After that it was back to the club. “We won the Leinster Club championship again but I was only at 60-70%. I was basically managing myself. I couldn’t train properly, was only doing a half a pitch session at full tilt a week. Then we lost to Corofin in the All-Ireland Club semi-final. It was back in for another operation. I went over to Sweden for that one to a surgeon who had fixed Robbie Keane and fixed Zlatan Ibrahimovi´c. And he fixed me too — but it was slow and it just didn’t heal enough to get me back in for Dublin. I knew I wasn’t fit enough. It became a pain to go to the gym and a pain to go over to the training, when all I wanted to do was just simply play. My purpose was to play. That was it. I didn’t want to be there just for the sake of being there.” The idea was to opt out for the rest of 2015 and see where things went then. There ended up being no going back.
“The door was left open for me, but three or four weeks after the All-Ireland I rang Jim [Gavin] and told him I wouldn’t be back. It was too much. I was tired of the psychological turmoil of trying to work to targets and deadlines, and I was tired of trying to answer people’s sincere questions about when exactly I would be back on the field.
“Eventually, the pressure of it all brought me realise that I could do without it.”
The leg has now recovered and he is back playing with St Vincent’s.
“The three injuries left me unable to train consistently for a long time. It’s only in the last two or three weeks that I’ve been able to train without pain. We played Wicklow in a challenge match there for St Vincent’s and I got through it well, finally. I really enjoyed it actually — I just felt good. It was the first time I had played 70 minutes since the 2013 All-Ireland Final. I was stiff after it, but no pain!”
The memories of lifting the Sam Maguire are there — and will always be — but the past is slipping further away.
“Words don’t do justice to what that felt like — winning the All-Ireland, and then lifting the Sam Maguire. Especially the first one. If I could bottle the feeling of those 15 seconds after the final whistle went in 2011 and we had beaten Kerry and were All-Ireland champions!
“But that was then and I was no longer able in 2015. So I stopped. What I had done since I was 13 was all about playing for Dublin. It’s what I wanted to do. My social life, my career, all work, studies — everything really — was built around preparing to play for Dublin. And that’s gone now so I’m having to readjust.”
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