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Brennan’s A Keeper For Meath footballers

April 12th, 2024

By Paul Keane

When Andy McEntee was appointed Meath manager in late 2016, he placed an immediate focus on the goalkeeper position.

Robbie Burlingham, Meath’s ‘keeper for the 2012 All-Ireland minor final, and Joe Sheridan, recalled from retirement and converted from attack to the last line of defence, were both tried in pre-season challenges that Christmas.

A few weeks later, when the 2017 National League started, Jack Hannigan was in goals against Kildare while Paddy O’Rourke returned for Round 2 against Derry and was the netminder for the rest of the year before surprisingly retiring. On and on the saga rumbled, 11 different goalkeepers ultimately starting competitive games in the six-year McEntee era.

Longwood’s Harry Hogan, a talented underage soccer player with Drogheda United and Dundalk, locked down the position in 2022 before being joined by his brother, Billy, and Dunderry’s Sean Brennan, all of whom featured in 2023.

From that trio, Brennan has emerged as O’Rourke’s number one choice, making his Championship debut in last year’s Tailteann Cup opener against Tipperary and starting all but one of their National League and Championship games since.

Finally, it appears, Meath have found their man and with time on his side – Brennan was a Leinster minor championship winner in 2018 – he could be here for a while to come.

“There is serious competition there,” said Brennan of the battle for the jersey. “Harry, he’s just a year older than me, and Billy, who is a year below me, are both there and I’m kind of stuck in the middle of the two of them. They’re two brilliant goalies and two lovely lads to train along with as well. You’re constantly having to look over your shoulder because you know the two boys are well capable of doing the job you’re doing yourself.”

With Harry Hogan starting against Longford in the O’Byrne Cup and Billy Hogan lining out against Donegal in Round 7 of the league, Brennan has been kept on his toes. He returned between the sticks for last weekend’s Leinster SFC opener against Longford and while Meath won, the three goals that flew past him will be a concern.

The Royals may very well need to keep a clean sheet on Sunday if they’re to defeat old rivals Dublin at Croke Park.

Brennan comes from good stock – his grandfather is Tony Brennan, an All-Ireland winner in 1967 and a selector alongside Sean Boylan during the 1980s glory years – and he has also shown his ability to overcome adversity. As a teenager, an irregular heartbeat caused some concern and was partly the reason why Brennan ended up playing in goals.

“I was probably put in goals when I was about 13 or 14,” said Brennan, who also played soccer and was on the books of Bohemians for a spell. “I had a heart monitor put in for two years when I was younger because I had an irregular heartbeat so I suppose I wasn’t able to be running around too much out the field and I was put in goals.

“I kind of thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll do a year or two here and be back out’ but I just haven’t been able to leave the goals since.”

Brennan is happy to report that he grew out of his heart issues.

“I had the irregular heartbeat since I was a child so they just wanted to monitor it but, no, listen, it didn’t affect me much,” he said. “It probably affected my mother more because she couldn’t look at games knowing.

“Looking back, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me because I don’t think I would have been too good of an outfield player so it was kind of a blessing in disguise really.”

With former Dublin and Ipswich Town goalkeeper Shane Supple coaching him, Brennan has developed into a top performer. Against Cavan in Round 5 of the league, he kicked the equalising point from a free and has emerged as a reliable kicker of 45s.

Last year’s Tailteann Cup success, which included wins over Antrim and Down at Croke Park, will stand to him when he returns to Croke Park but it will be a fresh experience against a team of Dublin’s ability.

Perhaps it will be a good omen that Dublin’s last loss in the Leinster championship was to Meath, 14 years ago.

“I was there in 2010,” said Brennan. “Definitely one of the good days. Unfortunately there hasn’t been any more days like that since. You’d like to think that with the current crop we have, that the next four or five years, well, you don’t know where that could take us.”

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