HE MIGHT have swapped the pitch for the pundit’s role, but Eddie Brennan was just as quick off the mark when it came to summing up Sunday’s All-Ireland final, writes Trevor Spillane.
“It was a breathless game,” said Brennan, who has made a seamless transition into his job as match analyst for RTE’s flagship GAA show The Sunday Game. “When you look at the number of chances missed by both sides you’d have to say a draw was the fair result - it would have been cruel for either team to lose that game.
“Colin Fennelly had a glorious chance when it looked like our lads were turning the screw, but the main thing is Kilkenny came out with a result today.”
Although gone from the dressing-room after 12 years with the seniors, it was refreshing to hear the four-time All Star refer to Kilkenny as ‘we’. He may have stepped outside the white lines, but the bond with the players is still there.
“I think a few of our lads will say ‘I didn’t perform today’ but cometh the hour, cometh the man - Henry Shefflin was absolutely magnificent when the match was there,” Brennan said of his fellow eight-time All-Ireland winner. “I thought Henry showed massive courage in the 53rd minute when we won a free in our own half and he ran straight back and popped it over the bar. That, for me, was a testament to Henry’s skill.”
Both teams will be content with the result Brennan reckoned, especially as they will have more to give the next day.
“Kilkenny will feel they didn’t perform to their maximum, but Galway have room to improve too so a draw was the right result,” he said. “Both will still have a fighting chance on September 30.”
Galway might have had the edge early on, but Brennan was full of praise at how Kilkenny drew their way back into the game.
“Just before half-time I looked at the scoreboard and saw we were seven points behind,” he said.
“I felt we hadn’t been firing on all cylinders and that we couldn’t really win anything around our half-forward line but thankfully we won a few frees. Henry converted a hard one in the corner under the Hogan Stand which was a vital score. He tacked on three frees in the closing stages and instead of going in seven, eight points adrift the gap was only five, which was huge.
“The turnaround in the second half was just as important,” he added. “Kilkenny got the first few scores on the board and it looked as if we were going to take off.
“Had we converted that goal chance I think we would have kicked on and taken control but you have to give Galway credit. They have a very young team and they battled right through to the end. Just when it looked as if they were going to fade out of the match they got stuck in again.”
While the players came in for praise, the officials weren’t as lucky.
“I don’t like being critical of referees, but I do think, unfortunately, that Barry Kelly took centre-stage today,” he said. “I think he was very, very fussy, perhaps over-fussy at times.
“Yes, the match was a great spectacle, but I felt he got too involved,” added Brennan. “Some of the frees and yellow cards he fired out were questionable, to say the least.”
And the last free that led to the equaliser?
“I felt the last two frees that Galway got were manufactured but, as a forward, I manufactured those frees myself once upon a time!
“In fairness to Joe Canning, he and Henry Shefflin slugged it out there all day. They missed one or two chances, but by God both put over some serious high-pressure frees, particularly the last one. That was a tough score for Canning to get, but both sides have lived to fight another day.”
It was a whirlwind end to what was Brennan’s first time in over a decade watching the drama from the outside. Not being involved was a strange experience, he revealed.
“It was hard getting ready to come to the game as a spectator and not a player,” he admitted. “It was weird - the butterflies were still there, which was strange as I’m not in the dressing-room. However, I have no doubt that the lads who are there will do the business the next day.”