Friday 5 January 2024
By John Harrington
Galway hurler, TJ Brennan, believes it’s time for the younger players in their panel to drive the team forward in 2024.
The Tribesmen are still quite reliant on the old guard who won an All-Ireland title in 2017 – seven of them played in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Limerick and it most likely would have been eight had David Burke not been sidelined by injury.
Brennan, an All-Ireland minor champion in 2017 and a Galway U-20 captain in 2020, is part of a generation of Galway hurlers who had underage success but have yet to really establish themselves in the senior grade.
He made his senior championship debut in 2020 but hasn’t ever been a nailed on starter, and knows he and a few others in the panel really need to spread their shoulders in 2024 if Galway are to challenge for the Liam MacCarthy cup.
“I think that’s correct,” says Brennan. “There’s a couple of us that need to drive it on a bit further and step up to the plate a bit more. Some of the lads already have an All-Ireland medal and have established themselves, and it’s up to a few more of us to carry the load a bit more.
“I’m up against some good, established players in Galway and it’s tough to get into the team. I’ve gotten a few starts, but I just haven’t held on to them. Hopefully this year now I can improve on that and stake a place for myself.”
Brennan is most comfortable playing in a central defensive position, but Galway have two of the best full-backs/centre-backs in the country in the shape of Daithi Burke and Gearoid McInerney.
Shifting them out of the team hasn’t been easy, but Brennan has learned a lot from watching them at close quarters.
“Them two players in particular would be similar enough to my style of play,” he says. “Left-handed as well and physical presences on the pitch. Daithi was our captain last year and a very good influence on me on a one to one basis.
“You’re just trying to absorb every bit of knowledge you can off those lads as I go along.”
Such has been the level to which the senior inter-county game has gone to in recent years that we’re seeing less and less players make an immediate leap from the U-20 grade to senior championship hurling.
All counties now place a huge emphasis on S&C, and Brennan has found that there’s a significant step-up to make when you first cut your teeth as a senior inter-county hurler.
“Yeah, I would have,” he says. “I came in at 19 and you’ve a bit of work to do physically and even just fitness, you mightn’t be as fit as the more seasoned players there. There’s a bit of work to do when you first come into the panel.
“And then you come off games and you’re thinking coming out with the ball I didn’t hit it to hand that time. You’re always going to make a mistake here and there. You might think you could have gotten a hook in or you missed a pick up. The game takes on a life of its own.
“Every player is always looking to improve and look where they went wrong and how they can rectify it. That’s all you can do. You just try to get better each game you play.”
Galway’s last two championship campaigns have ended in defeat to Limerick in an All-Ireland semi-final, but Brennan believes they progressed as a team in 2023 compared to 2022.
“I know we finished in the same place we finished in the year previous but I thought we left the Leinster final behind us.
“I thought we did a lot of good things throughout the year, put ourselves in a great position against Limerick but didn’t sustain it. We did a lot of things right throughout the year and definitely evolved a bit.
“We dropped off our intensity a small bit against Limerick in the semi-final and they picked up theirs at the same time. When Limerick hit their purple patch, we let them score too much and didn’t shut it down quick enough.
“You have to credit Limerick too. They’ve won four All-Irelands and we lost a semi-final to the best team in it so you have to tip your hat to them.”
So when talk turns to whether there’s any team out there that can stop Limerick’s drive for five All-Irelands in a row in 2024, should Galway be part of the conversation?
“We’ll always feel like we’re in with a chance,” says Brennan. “Munster is so competitive, you never know who is going to come out of it.
“If you don’t believe you can stop Limerick, you’re wasting your time going out there in the first place.
“Even talking to Mark Rodgers, my UL teammate, Clare have pushed them closer than anyone and actually beat them in the round robin series last year.
“But just beating Limerick doesn’t give you a medal. You have to perform in semi-finals and finals.”