This first senior county final appearance of Clondegad’s, it looks, feels and reads like a fairytale.
Twenty years ago, they were claiming a Junior B championship. Their history highlights prior to that were in the 1960s when they won Junior A and B titles within three years of each. There was an intermediate honour in 1944 too.
In one word, their pedigree has been humble.
But what has prompted this rise? Ennis’ growth in recent times has been felt in the Ballynacally area.
The decision of Sligo native Martin Brennan to relocate from Curry to the area brought not just a strong football influence but in time his sons — Gary, Shane and Cillian — who form so much of the team’s backbone.
Prior to training Clondegad earlier this decade and having led them to a junior A title, Martin would have coached Lissycasey.
His input is not lost on his son and club captain Shane. “It’s very easy to look at the management team and the group of players and say they are fully responsible for getting a team to a final but it’s never the way it works,” he told Raidio Corca Baiscinn (rcb.ie).
“You’ve people like dad and you’re going back to the likes of Josie Gavin and Gerry McCarthy who have given an awful lot to Clondegad GAA. It’s for people like that you’re putting yourself out on the field and driving it on and hoping to put yourself into the position to win championships.”
“I certainly wouldn’t be the footballer I am without dad’s influence,” Gary Brennan said on Clare FM this past week.
“My earliest memories are of going to the football field with him and running in behind the goals and him trying to pull me out so that I didn’t get a ball on the head.
“There’s no doubt about his influence on all of us.”
And there’s the Ballyea factor, that their sister club could not just win a first senior county title last year in what was only their second final appearance but go on to claim provincial honours and reach an All-Ireland final.
The crossover between the clubs — the likes of the Brennans, Tony Kelly, Gearóid O’Connell and Paul Flanagan line out for both — is significant but more than anything the local success has been infectious.
“The lads are ambitious and have the talent to back it up,” enthused Shane Brennan about his team. “We’ve always had ambition in this area. We probably haven’t had the population that we would like to have to form a championship-winning team but we saw with Ballyea last year that when you get a good group of lads together and work hard to a common goal you get the right results.
“Off the back of that, we have got a lot of confidence and it has probably furthered the ambition in Clondegad in that we’ve seen Ballyea and what they can do. When you see one side winning, you want the other side to win as well. I was involved with Ballyea last year but I never pucked a ball — I was a sub — so you want to get on the field and you want to win matches. It drives you on massively.”
That the clubs appreciate they work better together than in opposition has ensured there have been mutual benefits.
“The last couple of years has worked particularly well,” agreed Gary Brennan. “On both occasions, when we’ve gone out of one championship it has helped us in the other in that it’s allowed us to focus on one or the other.
“But even when we are competing in both, there is a good relationship between both sets of management teams and as long as that’s the case it’s the best possible scenario for us because the players are happy then and everybody is happy and willing to work hard.”
After an easy opening win over Kilkee in June, they were forced to replays by Lissycasey and Doonbeg before seeing off Milltown in the semi-final.
Having Kelly, Flanagan and O’Connell freed up after Ballyea’s exit from the county championship in early September when they lost to Newmarket-on-Fergus gave them a boost.
“Especially for the hurlers, we need all the football we can get,” Kelly remarked after the Milltown game. “When we went out of the hurling, if we could be any help to the football and we’ve been getting better and better at the football. We’re by no means the finished article but the drawn game against Lissycasey and the Doonbeg match has put us in good stead.
“Work-rate was probably the biggest thing that got us over the line last year and we’re trying to bring the work-rate to Clondegad this year.
Gary Brennan has been combining preparations for Kilmurry-Ibrickane with trips to Abbotstown in west Dublin every Friday for the last couple of months for International Rules training. But there’s little doubt about where his focus is.
“I don’t think I’ve had too many county finals, to be honest, even going back through under-age. Coming up through the ranks makes up appreciate where we are now.”
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