Paul Brennan: ‘We needed a kick up the arse to get back to winning ways’

In his job as a professional diver, Donegal centre-back Paul Brennan has seen the depths but has an opportunity of a career highlight on Sunday.

A native of Kinlough, Co Leitrim, Brennan played inter-county for Leitrim before switching from Melvin Gaels to Bundoran in Donegal in 2014.

Brennan played fleetingly last season for Donegal under the management of Rory Gallagher and since then, has found an extra gear lining out in the No6 jersey under Declan Bonner.

On Sunday at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, Bonner’s Donegal meet a Fermanagh side managed by Gallagher in the Ulster final.

Brennan has been taken under the wing not only of Bonner but of Karl Lacey, the 2012 Footballer of the Year and All-Ireland winner, a three-time Ulster champion and four-time All Star.

“Personally, I think he’s fantastic for Donegal at the minute,” Brennan said of Lacey, who is part of Bonner’s backroom. “He’s been there and he’s done it all. I was just thinking about how good he has been.

“His in-depth analysis, I’ve never seen the likes of it before. Massive credit where credit is due. There’s not too many men in Donegal that have done what he’s done.”

Like Lacey when Donegal were at their height six years’ ago, Brennan is given licence to roam and managed to knock over two points in the 2-21 to 1-12 Ulster SFC semi-final win over Down two weeks ago.

“It’s only my second year and in the first one I kind of served my apprentice,” said Brennan. “Rory had a different team set-up and maybe I didn’t fit the ball. Now, with Declan, I’m in. I still have my defensive duties to do but as much as possible I like to get up the field and support whenever I can.”

Under Bonner, Donegal, like Brennan, have put more of an impetus on their offensive talent. It gained plenty of springtime admirers, but ultimately it ended in relegation after Kevin McLoughlin’s last-gasp score grasped a point for Mayo to send Donegal through the trapdoor.

It was a disappointing conclusion but Bonner, from before the ball was thrown into the air in the Allianz League in late January, was insistent his priority was to let his largely fledgling panel gain experience prior to the championship.

“We were committed in the National League and put in some performances but didn’t get over the line in the end,” Brennan added. “We had loads to work on and still do, but there’s massive positivity in the camp. We played some good football in periods of games bur over 70 minutes we might’ve slacked off a bit... that’s why we didn’t stay in Division 1.

“It was frustrating. When we look back do we deserve to be in Division 2? Maybe we needed the kick up the arse to get us back to winning ways in the Ulster campaign. We really turned over a new leaf when it started.”

Brennan is a professional diver with Dive and Marine Contractors, and works 12-hour shifts depending on tides around the country, doing underwater welding and general repair work. He admits he doesn’t have the time to dive recreationally at nearby Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.

And in Bundoran, dormant in the winter but alive in summer like this weekend with the annual Sea Sessions music festival, is somewhere he might enjoy but has his sights set elsewhere. Donegal, having scored a combined 6-58 in their three Ulster outings to date against Cavan, Derry, and Down, will be massive favourites against Fermanagh, who have never won the Anglo-Celt Cup.

“When you’re playing Ulster games, you’d rather be there in Clones than on a barstool in Bundoran watching it,” he said. “It’s my first provincial final and I can’t wait. Fair play to Fermanagh but we try and put our huge focus on what our gameplan can bring, how we execute it. It’s ourselves who we have in mind.”

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