It is so far so good for Donegal’s latest forward sensation Jamie Brennan who after winning a second Ulster championship has his focus now on the Super 8s championship.
The Realt Na Mara, Bundoran clubman is Donegal’s top scorer in the Ulster championship. He has really lit up this year’s championship with his direct style and dazzling runs.
He has scored 2-11 in three games, 0-4 against Fermanagh in the first round, 1-3 against Tyone in the semi-final and 1-4 against Cavan in the Ulster final.
“It’s been a great Ulster campaign,” said the Bundoran dazzler, who was also denied a second goal by the woodwork against Tyrone.
“One of the objectives at the start of the year was to win Ulster, though early on in the year things were a bit shaky when we started out in the league.
“If we hadn’t beaten Armagh in Ballybofey (in the league) we might still have been in Division Two. Winning Division Two was the platform going into the Ulster Championship.”
It was also a rocky start to the season for Jamie who has been around the squad for the best part of four years.
He cut his league and championship teeth in 2017 off the bench before nailing down a place in the team last season. And this season he has firmly established himself in the starting 15 and was recently named the player of the Ulster championship.
“I’ve settled in a bit more this season. It takes time. I’ve been a part of the senior panel for three or four years now. It doesn’t happen overnight. You feel like you’re playing with a club here, we have that sort of confidence.”
It has taken extra hours in the gym and extra time after training, practising his shooting on his own.
“You’re always trying to better yourself. Things were rocky for me when I had the penalty saved against Tipperary in the league.
“We lost the game, but that drives you to improve. The likes of Michael (Murphy) and Patrick (McBrearty) are always out doing extra kicking and I just wanted to be at their levels,” says Jamie, who admits that Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty and the All-Ireland success of 2012 had a huge influence on him.
“The 2012 All-Ireland was a great platform for us as underage players. We were all at the match and then we were in a minor All-Ireland in 2014 when they played in another final. You see a winning side and you want to be a part of it.”
Jamie now finds himself playing alongside his two idols and has taken his performance to a new level.
“The Super 8s are like a new chapter and we just have to go hell-for-leather for it. A lot of eyes are on Patrick and Michael so I might get a wee bit more space.
“Having Patrick is a great lift again and we’re trying to build a partnership and it’s a matter of getting it out of both of us.”
Apart from his ability to snatch goals among Jamie’s other great attributes are his searing pace and direct running style and his willingness to take on his marker.
“I like to try to play it as I see it. Taking on the man isn’t always the best option. Look at the Fermanagh game, if you went to take the man on you’d end up being gobbled up and getting turned over.
“It’s just an awareness that I’ve developed. When I came in first in against Tyrone in the 2017 semi-final I went into contact early and got turned over and I was taken off at half-time.”
He found it was a similar story in the Division One league last season and that he needed to bulk-up and spend time in the gym if he was going to move to the next level and compete at the top level.
He had a chat with Donegal strength and conditioning coaches Paul Fisher and Aaron Kyles.
“I wasn’t a great one for the gym and when I came into the squad I was very light maybe 68 to 70kgs. But I had a chat with Paul Fisher and Aaron Kyles and they spoke to me about the science of strength and conditioning. I took to it and I’m much stronger now and I have also increased my pace,” said Jamie, who has just graduated from IT Sligo with a degree in human nutrition.
“Aaron and Paul spend a lot of time training developing the body and on injury prevention.”
And another aspects of his game that he was not happy and has worked on really hard since he came into the squad is his striking of the ball.
“I found I got into good positions but didn’t have the composure to take the goal. I looked a lot at the likes of Michael (Murphy) and Conor McManus and how they connect with the ball.
“I worked on that a lot and whenever I got a chance in college, I’d have been out for a kickaround with some of the lads and the hard work seems to have paid off and I’m more confident now when I get into good position.”
Donegal had an impressive Ulster campaign and are being talked up as second favourites for the All-Ireland and the only team capable of matching the five in-a-row chasing champions Dublin.
But despite all the hype surrounding the back-to-back Ulster triumphs and being talked up in the media Jamie Brennan has no fears on the hype getting to the players.
“I was listening to Johny Sexton on Off The Ball some time back. He was on about the hype after they (Ireland) beat the All Blacks and then it didn’t go to plan this year. It’s such a fine line from a kick in the backside and a slap on the back. We have to be mindful of that.
“We are also lucky to have the likes of Neil (McGee), Frank (McGlynn) and Michael (Murphy) who are all level-headed and that feeds down into us.”
The aim at the start of the season was to get out of Division Two, win the Ulster Championship and to go a step further than we did last year in the Super 8s.
“We had the opportunity last year against Tyrone to qualify for the All-Ireland semi-final when we were a couple of points up and we didn’t take that chance and hopefully we will get the opportunity again this year.
“The first game now is against Meath on Sunday in Ballybofey, and after that we play Kerry in Croke Park the following week and then two weeks later we are away to Mayo in Castlebar.
“They are all big games but we have to look at ourselves as a team and not worry too much about the opposition.
“If we can get our own house in order we will be in a good position and in with a right good chance of making the semi-final. We will be taking it one game at a time.”