News‎ > ‎

Interview with Sean Grennan

posted 2 Aug 2011, 14:51 by Edenderry GAA   [ updated 3 Aug 2011, 03:30 ]
Sean Grennan (Ferbane) 

Exclusive interview with Sean Grennan


By David Farrell


Former Offaly and Ferbane senior footballer Sean Grennan believes that his generation were lucky enough to grow up enjoying Offaly’s success, something that the current Offaly players have not experienced.


Grennan feels that it could be a problem that “most of the players cannot remember Offaly winning” but also points out that the players must “treat the Offaly jersey with respect” and that some of them are clearly not.


In this exclusive interview Grennan talks about the joys of winning the Leinster Championship in ‘97 and the huge disappointment of losing the All-Ireland Minor Final in ‘89, the impact Tommy Lyons made on Offaly, his infamous challenge on Ciaran Whelan and how he feels current standards of fitness levels are hampering players careers.


Who were your footballing heroes when you were growing up?

“Well locally I would have looked up to the Lowry’s, Seanie, Mick and Brendan and lucky enough I got to play with Mick and Brendan. All of the good Ferbane teams really, lads like the Kenny’s and the Kelly’s. I was extremely lucky and learned a lot by getting the chance to play with them lads when I was seventeen. Of course Offaly were going well at the time too in the eighties and lads like my Matt Connor and Padraig Dunne were great. To be at the All-Ireland final in ’82 was just fantastic it is something I will always remember. I think perhaps that is a problem with Offaly today that most of the players can’t remember Offaly winning”.


Who was your biggest influence on sport?

“I was lucky in both national and secondary school and indeed the club that there was a good group of lads at the one age and we had a huge interest in playing football and hurling. We were very successful and won nearly everything. The U11 national school, U14, U16, Minor and U21 and it was always the same core of lads. You get used to winning and if it’s in you that you want to win then you won’t let anything get in your way. Of course if you’re used to losing then it becomes a rot and it is very hard to get out of that”.


Did you play any other sports apart from Gaelic?

“I played very little apart from football and hurling. There was no rugby and very little soccer but I had no interest in soccer anyway. The only game I ever remember playing was in Edenderry for the community games final. I was in goals for Ferbane and Finbarr Cullen was in goals for Edenderry. I think they beat us 2-0 and that was my soccer career over! Not enough happens in soccer so it didn’t suit me”! (laughs)


What did you achieve at club and county level?

“I have a minor, three U21 and five senior football medals. I was terrible lucky to come on the scene to a very good Ferbane team. They won five in a row from ’86-’90 and I was a sub in ’88. I played in ’89 and the morning of the 1990 final I didn’t feel well and even though I was going to tog out I just knew something wasn’t right and I ended up in Tullamore hospital and got my appendix out. Had I played it could have burst. Then we won two more in ’92 & ’94 and should have won another in ’97 only the referee played about twenty five minutes of injury time and Edenderry got a goal! (laughs) Ferbane were always competitive and it’s on unfortunate we have slipped back. Then with Offaly we got the Leinster in 1997, the national league in 1998 and a couple of O’Byrne cups”.


Is the 1997 final still a sore point?

“Yes definitely it didn’t go down to well. There was a ridiculous amount of overtime played. A journalist rang me at the time and said he had gone through the video of the match stopping and starting it and that it wasn’t as bad as I had thought but I still maintain it was. Mick Mahon from Shannonbridge refereed the game and he would be local enough to us so shall I say a lot of bad blood came out of that! (laughs) Ah look times move on though and we had some great battles with Edenderry over the years. They had some great players with Finbarr, the Brady’s and Kevin Guing. I think ourselves and Edenderry are fairly similar at the minute. Back in the 90’s there was six or seven teams that could have won it. There was only a kick of a ball between them all. Offaly needs all them teams to be competing. I know we have got to a couple of Leinster finals but we haven’t won them and the last All-Ireland final we were in was the minor in 1989. That’s two decades with no All-Ireland appearance. There are young lads now that have no memory of Offaly winning”.


What players in Ferbane do you see having a bright future?

“There is a few of the lads that played against Rhode that are good young lads. Conor Lowry, Joe Maher and Aaron McDonagh are still very young but it is encouraging to see them coming along. It is a big ask to play senior but it all depends on their own attitude really. Once they stay playing that’s the main thing”.


Who would tip to win the Dowling cup?

“Sure it’s hard to look beyond Clara and Rhode. Gracefield are going well too but whether they have enough I don’t know. I can’t see anyone else challenging really.


What was the highlight of your career?

“The Leinster final from ’97 was absolutely huge. I remember when I was around eleven and watching Offaly winning Leinsters well to actually go on and emulate them men meant you could stand up and say ‘I have a Leinster’. The talking was done on the field that day”.


Having won an All-Ireland minor hurling in 1989, why did you chose it over the football?

“If you want to talk about regrets in life or lows in life well losing that All-Ireland football final was mine. It was brilliant to win the hurling and I think maybe to this day had things been done a little bit differently the week of the football final we might have won it but we’ll never know. In regards to playing both it just couldn’t be done. When Tommy Lyons came on the scene we were training three nights a week and at the weekends so you were effectively at it five nights a week so there was very little else you could do. I had been hurling a few league games with Offaly but when Lyons came along he took training to a whole new level and as good as told me I had to make up my mind. Coming from Ferbane football was always my first game. Any time we got beaten in club matches you would always have lads coming into the dressing room saying ‘keep it going lads, ye are keeping hurling alive in football clubs’. Of course they never said anything when we beat them”! (laughs)


What was your proudest moment with club and county?

“Winning the championships with Ferbane were always great but I would have to say that ’94 was probably my proudest because I was one of the older lads. Coming on the scene in the ‘80’s you joined the panel and you knew you were going to win it with the players we had. In 1994 I think I earned it more and I cherish it more. With Offaly the league title in ’98 was as good as the Leinster. There was no team we were afraid to play and any team that played us knew they were in for a right game. Back then people had a respect for Offaly. You always knew you’d get a battle. There was a bit of pride in the jersey and a bit of respect there for Offaly. But you get respect by earning respect. You earn it on the field”.


Who was your toughest opponent?

“There was nobody I ever said I didn’t want to mark him. Whoever came my way I just thought I had to do a job on him. If he was a good player it was good way of measuring your own ability. Barney Maher from Stradbally was a strong hardy footballer”.


Who was your toughest teammate?

“Vinny Claffey was a great bit of stuff. He wasn’t overly big but he was terrible strong and had the ability to go along with it. Frank Weir would have walked on to any county team if he wanted too. Unfortunately for him he couldn’t give the commitment. He was a match winner and Lyons tried so hard to get him to play. He could have been the real deal”.


Croke Park aside what was the best grounds you played in?

“Clones, Killarney and Páirc Uí Chaoimh were very good grounds but O’Connor Park is as good a pitch as you’ll walk out on. Croke Park was just brilliant. I remember playing there as a minor and it is just so big. If you were playing wing back you would hardly be able to kick it across the field to the other wing back it was that big. I always remember that if you got by your man you had so much time on the ball and space. It is the only place to be. They should be playing more minor matches there and encouraging the young lads”.


Who was the best player you played with at club and county level?

“The best player at club level was Denis Kelly. He had all the skills and could do anything. He could kick the ball fifty yards no problem, catch it in the clouds, his penalties were like bullets. He was a very agile footballer. With Offaly Cathal Daly was as good a corner back as was in Ireland. If you ask any of the lads who marked him he was exceptional. Names didn’t matter to Cathal he just went out and done his job. Finbarr Cullen was some footballer too. He gave unbelievable service and if a young lad wanted a role model Finbarr was the man. He looked after himself and he was Mr. Consistent the whole time. He was a great trainer who led from the front. Vinny Claffey was also a great leader”.


When did you first get the nickname ‘Clocker’?

“I don’t know when I first got that. It must have been after I got a few belts myself”! (laughs)


Is it true Tommy Lyons told the players to stop calling you that?

“Yes I think there was a story behind that alright. I think I might have been drawing too much attention to myself and referee’s were wondering what was going on! (laughs) Only a few lads called me that though. It wasn’t much of an issue”.


Regarding the infamous shoulder with Dublin’s Ciaran Whelan, was it planned or a spur of the moment tackle?

“I never set out to ‘do’ lads but I was picked midfield that day and I knew I was marking him. I said before the game that this fella would run all day and that maybe if I could get one good clatter at him it might slow him down a bit. Looking back at it if it was now I would probably get in trouble for it given the way the game has gone. But I seen the replay of it and it looks a lot worse than it was. The ball was there and sure look he was a big boy he was well able for it”. (laughs)


Tommy Lyons claimed had he taken over Offaly earlier he could have won an All-Ireland. Do you agree with that?

“I start playing with Offaly in 1990 and I was captain in ’92. I remember playing Kildare in Portlaoise on a real warm day and with about ten minutes to go Kildare just opt into another gear and pulled away. I was coming off the field and I just remember been absolutely shattered and thinking what was the story. I was twenty one or two and thinking I was fit but it wasn’t until Lyons took over around August 1996 that I realised I wasn’t fit. Tommy’s model was to have us fit to train in January. If any manager comes into a team these days that isn’t fit its going to take three years to get a core base built in. I think Tommy could have delivered one. That team could have won more we certainly wouldn’t have been far off. Starting off with Offaly we had lean times but around ’97 and ’98 we had a great core of lads and I honestly think we should have contested an All-Ireland and definitely should have another Leinster.

The training has even stepped up from them times but I don’t think lads these days are going to have as long as careers as they could. There is too many injuries now just look at Cork and Kildare. Their training couldn’t be right with the amount of cruciate ligament injuries there suffering”.


In 1997, Pat Spillane named you centre forward on his All-Star team in the paper. How did that make you feel?

“I didn’t even know that until now to be honest. (laughs) Look ’97 just worked out very well for us but I was never one for personal awards I was more worried about winning as a team if other things came along then great. But honestly I never knew that until now, fourteen years later! (laughs) I had a good year and so did Offaly. Physically we were as fit as you could be. Mentally we were right too. I knew at our last training session before the final that we would win. Padraig Dunne came down to training in Gracefield and gave us a great speech and I just knew we would win. We weren’t worried about lasting seventy minutes, if the game started at 500mph we were ready to play at 500mph. We were prepared in every way shape or form. It was just a pity the year finished the way it did”.


Were Offaly guilty over celebrating the Leinster win and did it affect the Mayo performance?

“The Leinster was a big thing I have to say. I remember chasing the Meath defender up the line under the Nally stand. We both fell to the ground and the final whistle went and anything like the crowd that swarmed out onto the pitch within seconds. I thought I was going to smother. It had been fifteen years and it meant so much to the people of Offaly. I think had Dublin or Meath won it then maybe they would have taken Mayo because they were used to winning. We had waited a long time. I wouldn’t say we settled for winning it but things just didn’t go our way on the day”.


Would you like to see an Offaly man replace Tom Cribben as Offaly manager?

“I don’t know to be honest I think there seems to be a complete lack of basic skills these days. There are lads playing in the backs not even marking their men. The standard of hand or kick passing is horrendous. Even if you got someone in to coach, it is not going to change over night. It’s a long term plan but nobody has patience for long term plans. Everyone wants success now but the manager doesn’t have a magic wand. I honestly don’t know what is needed to be honest. When Tony McTague was with Ferbane he used to always tell us when he was handing out the jersey ‘just remember you only have a loan of that jersey, think of the lads that wore it before you’. You have to treat the Offaly jersey with respect and that hasn’t been the way for awhile now. I am not saying it about every player but some of them”.


What did you make of Michael Duignan’s comments regarding the footballers?

“In the media these days they’re just waiting for people to say the wrong thing. He had it said and he probably didn’t mean to say it the way it came out but he was right. He didn’t mean it about all of them and I think he clarified that since with some of them. But he was right about respecting the jersey and about certain lads parading around the place like they’d won ten All-Ireland’s. I know when we played if we got beaten by ten points we wouldn’t be parading around town. You would be gone home to hide and make sure nobody saw you. You would be ashamed of your life and the attitude has to change. If it doesn’t change then you have the wrong people there”.


Have you ambitions to get into management?

“I was involved with Ferbane minors a few years ago but when the chance came to start the business here in Edenderry I was just finishing my career and felt it was time to give the business a go. It takes me an hour to get home to Ferbane so I can’t commit fully at the moment and there’s no point been half involved. I will see down the road. You’d never know. My own young lad has started kicking football now with the U6’s so maybe that could be the place to start! (laughs) I enjoy bringing him down to the field on a Friday evening”.


Would you like to manage Offaly some day?

“People think because you played football that naturally you’ll get into management but I don’t know if I would. I mightn’t have the head for it. I am not a great supporter or spectator at the moment! When you go to matches after retiring it is very hard to stand there and watch especially when you’re losing. I have mellowed a little bit now alright but it’s hard to know. When you’re in the stand looking at it you have all the answers in the world but when you’re standing down on the line and the pressures on it’s a different story. I will never say never to the job but more importantly I would just like to see Offaly back competing. If I thought I could offer something to the setup in the future I would like to try it”.


Meanwhile, as Grennan ponders his future in football he continues to successfully run his business ‘Midland Veterinary Ltd’ in Edenderry