Win or lose at Croke Park tomorrow you will probably find a bleary-eyed Ben Brennan clutching a bottle in the wee hours of Monday morning. Yet while team-mates may be celebrating a famous win or, as seems more likely, drowning their sorrows after defeat to Dublin, 27-year-old Brennan will be back on baby duty with his son, Tadhg.
Life changed for the Meath free-taker last December when baby Tadhg arrived, commanding his attention and catapulting him into a new category as the only player on the Meath panel who is a daddy.
“It’s tough going when he’s up a couple of times a night,” said Brennan. “My girlfriend would probably say she’s the one up most of the time but I still get woken up. Ah, I’m used to it all now. He was born in December so it’s not as if it happened just in the middle of the league or just before the Championship.”
Needless to say the new addition has changed Brennan’s outlook, on life and football. The game still consumes the half-forward who captained his club St Colmcilles to the 2017 All-Ireland intermediate final, scoring 1-2 in that encounter.
But he knows that even if Meath pull off a win for the ages at Croke Park tomorrow, baby Tadhg will be completely indifferent to it all.
“Match days used to consume my thinking,” said Brennan. “But now, once you’re at home, you’re at home, and you’re busy. You can’t be anywhere else apart from looking after a crying baby.
It’s your role now and I suppose it takes your mind off football too, it’s a positive if you look at it that way, that you are not bogged down with what’s coming up and you’re not overthinking things. You are busy looking after a baby.
Tadhg wore a Meath jersey with number 11 on the back for the Leinster semi-final win over Laois at Croke Park. It’s the number his dad wore in that All-Ireland club decider though, as it turned out, he was in number 12 against Laois. Either way, it was a new and novel experience to have his young family supporting him.
“I got in trouble afterwards actually, she was down looking for me at the side of the field with the baby but I was over talking to my father,” he said.
Brennan does a lot of that, talking with his Dad. Mickey Brennan is a proud Down man, football obsessed, and Ben’s own first steps were taken in the family house beside the Teconnaught club.
They didn’t move from near Downpatrick to Meath until the mid-1990s and Brennan admitted his Dad still finds it hard to cheer on the green and gold.
“He follows Down but he’d come to more Meath games nowadays, not necessarily as a Meath fan but as a father,” he said.
“Like any father, if I’m not picked or not playing he’s giving out and all that craic. He loves his football, we have great chats, just talking for hours on end. My mother would be giving out saying all we talk about is football.”
Brennan said his father loves to remind him about the 1991 All-Ireland final, when Down beat a fancied Meath side including Flynn to take the honours. That was the year Meath eventually overcome Dublin after four epic Leinster championship games though nobody is expecting a repeat.
These days a battling defeat to a Dubs side chasing a ninth consecutive Leinster title would probably be considered a good outcome. Brennan at least has no baggage associated with past defeats to Dublin as he only made his Championship debut against Longford last year, firing 0-6 then in the qualifier defeat to Tyrone.
He’s started 10 of their 11 league and Championship games so far this year, returning 0-13 in the process. This will be Meath’s first game of the league and Championship against a Division 1 team — and what a team.
“We are just immersing ourselves in what we do and concentrating on how we can perform to the best of our ability,” said Brennan. “If we’re going to perform in a Leinster final as we want to do then we can only think about ourselves.”