Gary Brennan is well familiar with the shoes the Limerick footballers now walk in.
The counties renew acquaintances at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening, the clash representing the fourth consecutive year where they’ve been pitted against one another at the Munster quarter-final stage. Throw in the 2012 semi-final meeting and it is their fifth in seven years.
Clare have won the previous four clashes, the average winning margin, mind, never more than a kick of a ball — one point in 2017, three in 2016, two in 2015 and one in 2012.
But despite Clare’s recent dominance over their neighbours, not to mind the fact that the Banner finished 19 places above Billy Lee’s side in the league, Brennan says Limerick will fully expect to turn over Colm Collins’ charges this weekend.
The sure tone in his voice stems from his early years involved with Clare when it was Limerick who held the upper hand in this relationship.
The Treatymen contested Munster finals in 2003 and 2004, and would do so again in 2009 and 2010. The Banner, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a provincial championship win. In his first five years in the setup (2007-11), Brennan experienced just one Munster championship victory.
That never stopped him or his teammates believing they could overcome Limerick.
Indeed, Brennan almost preferred when Clare went into championship games wearing the tag of underdogs. Their run to the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final, the manner in which they pushed Kerry and Mayo last year, along with their league rise, means it is a title they don’t see much of anymore.
“It’s not something we’re terribly used to, that expectation to win,” said the Clare captain.
He added: “Limerick, I have been in their situation. There were several years when we were in Division 4 while they were beating up the divisions and yet, we were coming into championship feeling we had every right to beat them. Limerick will feel the exact same about us and they’d be dead right too.
“Guys laugh at me, but I remember saying last year that it was going to be a tough game. People were talking about Division 4 against Division 2, but I was saying that I had never played in a championship match against Limerick where there was more than a couple of points in it. That is exactly how it finished.”
In his early days on the inter-county scene, Brennan found himself trying to bulk up so to compete in the air with the game’s top fielders. But with that art no longer a key requirement for midfielders, the 2016 All-Star nomination, of late, has been focused on trimming down.
“I remember going down to Killarney in 2008 trying to compete in the air with Seamus Scanlon and Darragh Ó Sé. I was a good bit lighter than I am now. You try to bulk up to compete with these guys and next thing, the game changes and it’s all about running around the place.”
The Clondegad club man, despite rolling his ankle in mid-April, will feature this Saturday and has paid tribute to the man responsible for drastically improving the fortunes of Clare football.
“Colm has put a great structure in place. He knows the county and players well. I don’t know whether he is planning on being an Arsene Wenger or a Brian Cody about it, but as long as he wants [the job], he is more than welcome to have it.”
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