Brennan takes road less travelled
By Orla Bannon
Paul Brennan has taken a road less travelled to get to his first provincial SFC final.
The Antrim-born former Leitrim footballer lines out for Donegal on Sunday. And while the rest of the country will be hoping for a fairytale first Ulster title for Fermanagh, he's entitled to appreciate the value of a winners' medal just as much.
Two years ago he transferred club and county allegiance from Kinlough and Leitrim to Bundoran and Donegal, a journey of only a couple of miles that was seen as contentious by some at the time.
“I played for Leitrim for about six years before I made the transfer," said Brennan.
"Growing up it looked for years that I would never achieve any medal or be in any serious medal contention, and I thought seriously about taking a year's break before this opportunity came up.
"I wasn't playing good football either and didn't feel like I was achieving anything. It was frustrating.
“I talked to my brother about it because he could have moved when he was Under-21 and didn't, and he said it was one of his biggest regrets, so I wasn't going to let it pass me by as well.
“My partner (Colleen) is from Bundoran, I went to school there, and there is a big connection there in her family with the local club.
"I'm delighted with the decision I made. If you'd told me two years ago I'd be putting my hand up for a jersey in an Ulster final, I wouldn't have believed you.
"Everyone works hard. The sacrifices that go into trying to achieve a medal like this...birthdays, weddings, it's all put on hold. But it would be worth it all to win an Ulster medal on Sunday."
This is his second season in Donegal colours, having been first called up last year under former Donegal and current Fermanagh manager, Rory Gallagher.
While Gallagher will know most of the Donegal team inside out, centre-back Brennan will be more of an unknown quantity, which could be to his advantage.
"Rory didn't get to see much of me last year but he was the first one to call me in, so I owe him that.
"You expect to serve some sort of apprenticeship in your first year, not only physically and fitness-wise, but also mentally to get up to that pace of Division One football and Ulster championship football. I played a handful of league matches.
"He has seen plenty of us this year.
"Everyone knows what we're trying to achieve when we're playing."
While praised for their explosive attack, Donegal's fullback line looks vulnerable but neither Cavan, Derry or Down were good enough to exploit it.
It could be argued Declan Bonner's side possibly hasn't been given enough credit for the big totals they're clocking up at the other end on route to a seventh Ulster final appearance in eight years but Brennan says: "I don't really see that, we're our own worst critics".
"When we get back to training after the games we analyse them and by all means we don't be blowing smoke up each other.
"We still don't think we've peaked or performed anywhere near the standard we're trying to get to but hopefully we will get the game plan right and execute it for the 70 minutes when it matters, in a final."
Neil McGee has played an influential role in organising how Donegal's defence will set up on Sunday despite being banned for the final at Clones.
The two-time All Star fullback picked up a straight red card in the semi-final win over Down but remains a key figure in the build-up.
"Since his ban he's been a massive part of things this last two weeks," Brennan added.
"He's very heavily involved in training with the defence and he's vocal in the dressing-room.
"He's the man who's been there and done anything that could ever have been asked."
In McGee's absence, Brennan would have the bulk and physique to drop back and mark one of the Quigley brothers, Seamus or Sean, but he's giving little away.
"A full-back's role is a hard role and that's why Neil has done so well for so many years.
"I am trying to put my hand up for a starting jersey and if it (fullback) has to be, it has to be.
"But I'm sure whoever is going to slot into that number three role, Neil is already coaching them on how he would play it.”