When it comes to interviewing Edmund Brennan, arguably Donegal’s greatest ever GAA supporter, there can be a race to see who will ask the questions.
He has an encyclopedic mind when it comes to Donegal GAA. I thought I might put him on the back foot for starters by asking him: ‘Who was the Termon man who played on the last two Donegal teams to win the Dr. McKenna Cup’? There was a pause for three seconds . . . and then the answer “Paddy McDaid”.
I have asked the question of a few others since and none of them could come up with ‘Boots’!
But the real reason I wanted to get talking to Brennan is about Donegal and their chances for the coming year under new manager, Declan Bonner.
“We will be doing terrible well to stay in Division One. I will make a prediction now, I think we will get a draw in Kerry,” he said. “The National League can throw up some funny results. You could get a draw in Kerry; the Galway game, it could end in a draw too.
“Our record in Letterkenny (where we play Galway) is not great.
“Even if we got a draw in Killarney, it would be a great boost for the following week, because I don’t think we will get anything in Croke Park (against Dublin).
“If you had two points after three games, it wouldn’t be so bad, because I don’t think we will get anything against Dublin.”
But while the senior team occupies his thoughts, Brennan’s great love of GAA in Donegal is what is happening at underage. He rarely misses any game that Donegal play from U-14 to senior, and if he doesn’t make it to the game, he will have all the information before the evening is out, team, score and scorers.
“Another thing,” says Edmund, whose train of thought usually returns to Donegal’s underage, “when the draw was made for the U-20, the other provinces made separate draws while Ulster has the same draw for the U-20 and senior.
“Then in Leinster, you have a Round Robin but I don’t think you have a second chance in Connacht or Munster.
“The U-20s are going to be played the following week to the senior clashes with the same draw. I don’t know why they won’t put them on as curtain-raisers,” he says, shaking his head disapprovingly.
Who does he feel needs to step up for Donegal in 2018?
“You would be hoping that (Nathan) Mullins would nail down a place. I saw him in a challenge game down in Rooskey against Roscommon. But I was very impressed with the Jigger (Darach O’Connor). I was impressed also with Cian Mulligan, Jamie Brennan and (Stephen) McMenamin.
“This will be a big year too for Hugh McFadden. He is in the panel now since 2014 and I think it is a good move making him captain. He is very committed. I would say centre-field is his best position. Mullins would be faster over the ground and probably we would have to use McFadden as a holding man.
“We’re going to have to solve that centre half-forward position by putting (Odhrán) MacNiallais there saying that’s your position,” says Edmund, who quickly added (Alan) Lyons played well in the challenge game “but it’s a big step up for him coming from Division Three”.
“At underage he was ahead of Patrick McBrearty. Then he got the two cruciate injuries. He can win his own ball. He is heavy built and very strong.
“It looks as if he (Bonner) will start Eamonn Doherty at full-back. I would try to make a centre half-back out of Eoghan Bán (Gallagher).
“Michael Carroll could be played in the centre of the field too. It is a big year on a lot of fronts.”
When told that Ethan O’Donnell’s birthday was the 1st of January (Conor Doherty also), Edmund says: “I was thinking that. The mother told me that once. That gives you the extra year. (Martin) Shovlin has the same birthday as me, though not the same age, the 6th of January. There would be eight years of difference,” says Brennan, who hit 65 on Saturday last.
“Now I’m going to ask you a question,” says Brennan. “If (Cathal) Corey got the job would Nathan Mullins be with us now? And before I answer, he says: “Naw, he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t have followed that up.
“Would there be other players who were born in this county, who could come on board with us? Leitrim, they took in two or three fellas, whose fathers were from Leitrim.”
Asked if that would be a good thing for Donegal. “If it’s there, why not use it. John Delaney uses it,” says Brennan laughing.
And then he is off on another tangent.
“Was I telling you about the day I met John Delaney in the town (Donegal town) last year. I was sitting in the car, two or three months ago. He came out of the Central Hotel. I put down the window and said ‘How’s it going John. I’m a wild GAA man but I used to follow soccer.
“I was in Kilcohan Park the day Bobby Charlton played centre-forward for Waterford, the first game he played. He says, ‘my father used to talk about that’.
“Finn Harps drew Waterford the same year in the cup, in 1976, and Charlton played again in Ballybofey,” said Brennan, who said that Delaney talked fondly about his own father's involvement with Waterford in those days.
“We travelled to most Harps games then. We were at the game in Waterford. God rest, John Erskine, he took a minibus load of us from the factory, myself and Gerry McGee and Ivan Farrell. We were beat 3-1.”
Back to Donegal and the latest recruit, ‘keeper Shaun Patton. He has another question: “Did he play in that McLarnon final for St. Eunan’s in 2014 against Inish Eoghain? They played Carrick in the quarter-final in Ballyshannon and a Dublin side in the semi-final.”
I checked it out and he indeed did play. Brennan says: “Donie McCole told me that he didn’t play.”
The bottom line - don’t doubt Edmund Brennan when he's talking about underage GAA teams, schools or county.
“Bonner would be thinking down the road. I could be in this job for the next five years. He is there for three anyway, and if does middlin’ at all, he’s going to get five. As a player who is only 20 now, could be just 25 in Declan’s last year,” says Brennan, who says that he might get a couple of more years out of Neil McGee and Frank McGlynn.
Any conversation with Edmund can suddenly take another twist and mention of the late Tom Wickham brings him back home and his native club, Dunkineely in the 1950s.
“Dunkineely reached the county semi-final in 1956 and played Ballyshannon. They had the Killybegs boys with them. It was one of them years that Ballyshannon were beat in the county final. Dunkineely won the Division. I have a photo of them at home taken on the street in Dunkineely. My uncle Eamon, on my mother’s side, Eamon Haughey, he has the ball and Charlie Brady has a wee cup.
“I checked out the report of the county semi-final against Ballyshannon and they only scored three points. My uncle Eamon scored the last point; they were beaten nine points to three.
“The three Cunninghams would have playing; Dan Quigley, Charlie Brady and Gerry Floyd, and then they would have had the McGroartys from the Black Road, maybe two of them. Then there was a fella called Maurice Boyle, who was a hardy boy,” said Brennan, who said he was talking to Leo McLoone senior one time and he remembered getting a wallop from Boyle when he was a very young player.
“The two Sweeneys, Peter and Hugh, were still playing,” he says.
On another theme, Brennan is disappointed that no GAA Yearbook was produced this year.
“I was very disappointed that there was no Yearbook this year. It always gave you an idea of what was happening in clubs, development and that.
“There was a Yearbook in 1966. I have a copy at home. I’ll tell you how I got it. I was drinking in McShane’s in Dunkineely one night and this Floyd man from St. John’s Point said he had come on the book when scrimmaging through the house after a death. He says to me ‘you buy me a drink and I’ll take you up the book’. That was how I got to have it,” says Brennan.
He wasn’t able to tell me what was the price of drink back then.
“There was another Yearbook in 1976 with a black and white photograph of a Donegal team during a National League game. It would have been the time when Seamus Marley and boys like that were playing with the team,” he says.
Another issue close to his heart is the Training Centre at Convoy and he has made many visits there since the project was started and he is looking forward to the dressing room building being erected.
“It would be great to see the dressing rooms built at the Training Centre. It will be a big building job. It will take a full year to finish. I hope when it’s done that it’s nicely finished around with tarmacadam that you would be proud of.
“Then I wonder what they are going to do with the final pitch,” says Brennan, always looking ahead.
As he leaves, he urges me to edit what he was saying carefully. There was no need for that for anyone who can ask as many questions as he answers is probably the best interviewee.
If you meet Edmund this year, whether that be in Killarney or Castleblayney, no doubt he will have further questions and don’t be afraid to throw the odd question at him.
He is a one-off and a very proud Donegal supporter.