Brennan: You have to have a couple of chips on your shoulder playing any team

At the time, Henry Shefflin admitted he didn’t know what The Stepford Wives were.

Eddie Brennan wasn’t so sure either. If Dónal Óg Cusack’s unflattering image of Kilkenny was intended to cause damage deep behind enemy lines it missed its target.

“I didn’t go and Google it,” says Brennan who now sits alongside the former Cork goalkeeper on The Sunday Game.

“We didn’t pass too much credence in it. The reality is you control what you can control. If people are fond of talking they’re fond of talking.

“In Kilkenny, we would have paid little attention to what was in the papers or sections of books highlighted. You’d enough going on to consume you. Anything else would mess with your head.”

Less than four years have passed since Cusack’s excellent autobiography Come What May and yet in that short time-span the venom that once coursed through the Cork-Kilkenny rivalry has disappeared completely.

There are schools of thought on that: one being that all but a couple of those who know what it was like to beat Kilkenny in Championship have since left the Cork panel; the other that among them the protagonists of the strikes have vacated the premises. Brennan is adamant it wasn’t the strikes that offended the Kilkenny team; they simply want to beat a team that had bested them in the 2004 All-Ireland final.

“There was a strong rivalry built up from All-Ireland finals in the 2000s but there was never anything more than it was for us. It was you or me and that was the nuts and bolts of it. There would be an underlying begrudging respect for one another but when you’re a player you’ve a dislike for everybody. You have to have a couple of chips on your shoulder playing any team.

“They had strikes, they were discontent and we weren’t. You could understand what was going on but it didn’t impact on us.”

Brennan may have been Kilkenny’s GPA representative but it was a redundant position compared to what it was in Cork.

As much as they knew what was happening on Leeside, all Kilkenny supporters saw were whingers. Offenders too. When John Gardiner suggested Cork would have stood a better chance of outdoing Kilkenny had Gerald McCarthy not been in charge, it placed two big asterisks beside the Cats’ 2007 and ’08 All-Ireland titles.

“The perception would be the GPA springboarded off the Cork strike,” says Brennan. “It strengthened it. Did it add a little spice to the rivalry? Maybe it did. But from 2006 onwards it was only a case of ‘who’s next for us’.

“We didn’t say in the dressing room ‘did you hear what they’re saying about us’. We didn’t get distracted.

“When you’re younger you’d get upset with what might be said by others but then you realise some people try and play mind games.”

Ah, but what about the 4-26 to 0-11 league win in Nowlan Park in 2009? Coming off the last of the three fallouts in Cork and the first appearance of the strikers, wasn’t it an opportunity to teach them a lesson?

Cusack certainly felt it, suggesting in his book Shefflin had taken pleasure in inflicting such punishment on Cork as they shook hands after the game: “There you go now Cusack, 27 points, take that home with ya.”

At half-time, leading 2-14 to 0-6, Kilkenny were treated to a standing ovation from supporters. In fairness, it wasn’t the last time they would offer such thanks to their team in a home league game but for anyone watching on that April afternoon there was a deep sense Cork were being scolded as much as schooled for their errant behaviour.

“It was simply about not yielding a psychological edge to anyone regardless of which team it was,” recalls Brennan, scorer of four points that day. “When it was at home that feeling was stronger. You often see teams trying to get to the top and they’d go away to a strong team and grow on the back of beating them on their home patch.

“Beating Cork in Nowlan Park was nothing more than that. The perception might have been different with supporters but I can safely say it wasn’t motivation for us. It was just about keeping Cork underneath us.

“The same went for Tipp, Galway and Waterford. That was the general mindset and external factors didn’t come into it.”

Brennan looks at both teams now going into tomorrow’s All-Ireland quarter-final and observes change: Kilkenny battling as they slowly accept transition is pending and Cork have already grasp that nettle.

“There are bigger days ahead of this Cork team but the older lads in Kilkenny will tell you all about Cork and what they’re capable of.

“Looking at the Munster final, they didn’t do themselves justice. Kilkenny are in a dangerous territory. Cork are like a cornered rat but the two-week rest will have Kilkenny refreshed.”


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