"County football was too strict for me" - Brennan turns it around for Sligo
By Declan Rooney
She may have been a late comer to inter-county football but new Sligo captain Nicola Brennan has taken the job with the sole focus of leading her side into Division 2 of the Lidl National Football League.
Ten years on from making her league debut as a 17-year-old, Brennan made it back to the county team for her second game in 2017, and this time she wasn’t inclined to let the chance slip.
By her own admission she was not ready for the dedication required for the inter-county game at that tender age, but after a year of upheaval in the Yeats County she is honoured to be asked to lead the team this year – starting with Sunday’s Lidl Division 3 Connacht derby with Roscommon in Boyle.
Leitrim native Michael Bohan has been handed the manager’s job in Sligo, and after the team parted ways with joint managers John O’Hara and David Curran in the middle of their championship campaign last year and ended with stalwart Ted Maloney in charge, it’s time for a settled face in the position.
Considering that Sligo reached the Lidl NFL Division 3 Final and the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Semi-Final where Meath and Tipperary respectively beat them, was some achievement and tells Brennan (30) there is plenty of talent in the squad.
“You couldn’t but look back on last year with a bit of pride that we still managed to perform the way we did with all the upheaval,” said Tourlestrane player Brennan.
“On top of that, to see the players that came back this year, it just goes to show the players are only focused on football. That was their only concern, doing well at football for Sligo. We all ploughed through as best as we could last year with all that was going on. And we came this year to give it another go.”
Sligo were Lidl Division 3 champions in 2015 and played second tier football for three years after that, before they were relegated back down a division in 2018 after seven straight defeats that season. Perhaps it was no shock that they pushed hard for an immediate promotion last season, but in just her second season as a regular Brennan spotted the difference that playing one tier higher can make to your summer.
“Absolutely, we are well capable of performing and competing in Division 2, and you want to be playing in Division 2 going into any championship. If you are an Intermediate team you want to be playing there.
“That stood to us two years ago. We didn’t do well in Division 2, but having played against those teams, once Championship came we were a lot better.
“It is obviously a big ask, but we know we are capable of playing good football, even as we are with different players coming in. We’re definitely aiming for the Division 3 final. We did it last year we definitely can do it this year.”
As well as starring on the club and county fields, Brennan runs her own fitness company, Nicki's Kettlebeats, in south Sligo. She is also mother to Levanna, who turns six next week, and after her daughter was born she thought her Sligo dream had gone.
“I always said I wanted to play for Sligo when I was younger. I went in that time with the minors when I was 17 and I was asked to stay on with the senior panel. I went down to Waterford with them for a league game, but I was too young and wild.
“County football was too strict for me. The plan was to go back in after few years and I never did. I had a daughter when I was 24 and then I thought I’d never get to play on the county team again, that I had missed my opportunity.
“Then I went back to club straight away and I went back better. I was playing better football than ever. Then I knew there might be a chance yet, and I got called in and was delighted to get it.
“One night Paddy Henry rang me and asked me to come in and make up the numbers at training. They picked two of us to stay on – that was the week before the Connacht final. We got a Connacht medal: we didn’t earn it but we got it.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I would be able for that level, especially when they were so far along in their season. To actually be able to manage I surprised myself. I’m glad I did now.”
With new manager Bohan in charge a fresh broom has been swept across Sligo ladies football. Brennan says there is a great vibe in the camp for 2020, and then being asked to captain the side has made her year.
“I have to say I knew nothing about Michael before he came in but he has been brilliant. He is very straight and to the point, which is exactly what you want.
“The captaincy was a real shock for me, but such an honour. I didn’t think I was in the running for it so it’s massive for me to be given the role.
“It will be amazing. It’s a huge honour to be given this opportunity. I can’t wait to lead the girls out against Roscommon and hopefully lead them to a win.”