Ger Brennan will be in New York this Thursday night, September 29, at the New York Athletic Club along with Kilkenny captain Henry Shefflin and the Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy Cups.
Brennan will talk about how the lure of professional sport may be strong for any aspiring young Irish athlete but for leading amateur GAA players, the love of county remains stronger than money.
He himself is a case in point. Educated by the Jesuits in Dublin’s famous Belvedere College, Brennan was a star forward on the school rugby team during his days at the college.
And during that period Brennan lined out alongside Cian Healy, one of the leading lights of the Irish rugby team currently competing at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Brennan and Healy were on the school’s senior cup team together, but Brennan’s love of Gaelic football meant their paths were to diverge shortly after.
“I always preferred Gaelic football,” admitted Brennan.
“I was in my final year in school and Cian was two years behind so we played on the senior cup rugby team together back in 2004, but I only played one year senior rugby as I was involved with the Dublin minor Gaelic football team.”
Brennan and Healy have been following each other’s progress over the past few weeks. The day before Dublin defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland final, Brennan was up at dawn to watch Ireland’s victory over Australia where his old school mate Healy was named man of the match.
“It was a phenomenal victory for Ireland and I was thrilled for Cian because he was brilliant,” said Brennan.
Twenty-four hours later, Healy was in his hotel room in New Zealand watching Brennan helping Dublin to All-Ireland glory.
And the Irish loose-head prop couldn’t hide his admiration for Brennan during the game, commenting on Twitter, “Played senior rugby in school with Ger Brennan, he was a serious operator at BS flanker . . . great athlete.”
Brennan, the Dublin center-back, is unsure whether he would have had what it takes to become a rugby pro but there’s no doubt that, despite being an amateur player, he certainly commands the respect of the pros.
Dublin’s victory in the All-Ireland unleashed a massive outpouring of emotion in the Irish capital, but even after waiting 16 years for victory the celebrations had to be cut short as Brennan was soon back on duty for his club St. Vincent’s.
“Ye it has been very exciting over the past week in Dublin. We weren’t expecting it be on the scale we have witnessed, it was surreal to see 50,000 supporters turn out to celebrate the following day. But we had to pull the reins in over the past few days because we were all back playing with our clubs in the Dublin senior football championship,” Brennan said.
“The club will always remain the focal point for us. It’s where we start and where we’ll finish. That’s the way it is for any county player, regardless of how successful you are.”
Even at club level, however, Brennan has tasted the ultimate success as he was on the St. Vincent’s team that won the All-Ireland senior football club championship in 2007, lining out alongside his now Dublin manager Pat Gilroy.
Brennan is over in New York as part of a visit by the Gaelic Players Association, the organization representing Ireland’s county hurlers and Gaelic footballers. And he will be sharing his personal insights into his sport and the historic season gone by with guests tomorrow night.
One of the topics that will feature during the discussion will be how elite GAA players can prepare and perform like pros although remaining strictly amateurs within the Gaelic Athletic Association.
And the overlapping of Gaelic footballers and hurlers with their professional counterparts in Irish rugby reflects the extraordinary dedication of Ireland’s GAA stars.
Brennan will be joined at the New York Athletic Club event by Kilkenny hurling legend Shefflin who, after winning a record-equaling eighth All-Ireland medal earlier this month, was also back on duty with his club Ballyhale Shamrocks last weekend.
If Shefflin goes on to win another All-Ireland with Kilkenny, he’ll become the most decorated GAA player of all time. No other player, in hurling or football, has ever won nine All-Ireland medals.