He’ll be a strong contender to replace Brian Cody when the Kilkenny boss eventually quits, but Eddie Brennan’s management career almost stalled before it began. The current Laois chief was on the line three years ago in Mullingar as Kilkenny U21 manager when they lost to Westmeath for the first time ever in the championship.
It was Brennan’s first championship game in charge of Kilkenny and he later admitted he was ‘naive’ and defeat ‘made me reassess everything’ about management. He ultimately bounced back by leading Kilkenny to the All-Ireland U21 final in 2017 and is now in charge of a Laois side on the cusp of a win that would propel them to the 2020 Leinster championship.
Westmeath, of course, stand in the way again and, like 2016, they’re underdogs to snatch a win in tomorrow’s Joe McDonagh Cup final.
“Hopefully he will be sick of the sight of us after this,” said Westmeath captain Aonghus Clarke of Brennan. “Unfortunately I was overage for that U21s win, I was 23 at the time.
“It was a huge night, it was a big win for Westmeath hurling, a great occasion. But you have to put it in context. It is about all these little small wins along the way. And that was one little win.
Even this game, if we can win it’ll be huge at the time, but it’s only a small step in the whole process.
Ambitious Clarke says Westmeath ultimately want to make it into the Leinster Championship. He says ex-Waterford boss Michael Ryan made huge strides in his time in charge and Joe Quaid has moved things on again.
“Joe has come in and he’s trying to increase that level we’re playing at, to make it more professional and give even more application. The goals are no secret, it is no mystery. You want to get into Leinster and to stay there, to compete.
“If you can get to that level you get more buy-in from players and everyone around the county wants to play. That would be the norm in the likes of Tipperary and Kilkenny.”
Laois finished top of the McDonagh Cup group as the only unbeaten team, yet only drew with Westmeath earlier this month, 1-22 to 1-22. And Westmeath have a trump card in Killian Doyle, who has returned impressive tallies, 1-12, 1-11, 0-17, and 0-10 in his four games so far.
“He’s standing up to the plate, in fairness,” said Clarke. “A lot of his scores are coming from frees, but he’s knocking them over and is deadly accurate. Even the last day, he didn’t score from play, but we still racked up 1-22. So the other boys are chipping in.”