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Brennan's scoring feats can power Tyrone to new heights

 

By Declan Bogue

Whatever way you study the figures, the rise of Lee Brennan and the Tyrone attack has been one of the stories of this year's league campaign.

This weekend in Omagh holds a little more than academic interest. While it is true that neither Tyrone nor Kerry will be going down or making a league final, it pits the most talked-about minor in Gaelic football against a 21-year-old who has been carefully nurtured out of the public eye until this February.

One, of course, is Kerry's David Clifford. The other is Lee Brennan, who has become in no time at all Tyrone's most lethal forward and the leading scorer in Division One of the National League, with a 2-25 tally, 0-20 of it from frees.

The 21-year-old Trillick man has long been talked about in his county as a serious talent. He was a mere schoolboy in St Michael's Enniskillen when he was an essential figure in the team that won the All-Ireland Under-21 title in 2015.

While at school, he joined no less a figure than Tony McEntee as the only footballers with three Ulster School's All-Stars.

His figures are off the charts. In 2015, he took the Patsy Forbes Cup for leading scorer in the Tyrone Senior Championship when Trillick ended a 29-year gap without a title with 2-27.

In 2016, he was one point off being top scorer in the Tyrone league, but last year he took the honours, thanks in no small part to his astonishing 3-14 in a league game against Strabane that was widely circulated on the internet.

"Suffice to say, the man is as natural a footballer as you will see," is the assessment of former Tyrone captain Feargal Logan, who managed Brennan to that 2015 Under-21 All-Ireland.

"He is a clinical finisher and his ability to finish goals is up there with the best I have seen - Peter (Canavan), even Maurice Fitzgerald and these guys, wee Lee can finish up there with any of them.

"Mark Bradley is not dissimilar in my view. But Lee is particularly lethal, would be the phrase for Lee in around the net.

"He is never flummoxed for time, he picks his spot every time and he will put it in that spot. It is literally that easy for him."

Those qualities were showcased in last week's whipping of Mayo in Castlebar. Brennan collected 1-3 and his goal was a thing of beauty. Cathal McShane played a ball to Brennan as he was running across goal but, instead of taking a point off his left, he dummied his way past Ger Cafferkey, burned his way to David Clarke's goal and thumped it to the top corner.

"I have seen him score all sorts of goals in training and in matches and he is a sight to behold," adds Logan.

"He has a great set of dummies. And balance. As (Brian) Dooher would say, he is built from the ground up so he is not easy dislodged. He is a genuine real piece of work, a high-end inside forward."

Given his progression, it has been a source of wonder for many in the county around Mickey Harte's reluctance to put him in.

In the 2016 Championship, he was merely 19 and played no part, getting just three minutes in the league.

After they were beaten by Mayo in that year's All-Ireland quarter-final, Harte identified finishing as the team's major weakness in challenging for Sam Maguire.

With that in mind, he showed remarkable restraint to hold the kid from Trillick back.

Last year, Tyrone set scoring records in Ulster and annihilated Armagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final, but he played just 15 minutes.

Back in 2016, in reflective mode and faced with a table full of journalists on the All-Stars tour of Dubai, his club mate Mattie Donnelly summed up his qualities: "He has that temperament, that class about him, he's just destined to do big things."

"Hopefully for himself and Tyrone that can be sooner rather than later - but it's not a question of 'if', it's just 'when'."

After the first game of the league, when Tyrone scored just 0-8 against Galway, Harte made his move.

From then on he has played three recognised inside forwards, settling it would seem, on Brennan alongside Connor McAliskey, who will drop a little deeper, and Mark Bradley.

Now that he is finally getting a chance, it is important to recognise his devotion to life in the Tyrone set-up. He has watched on while others have been persisted with, and yet he never threw a strop or was tempted to leave a panel.

For Logan, he was a dream to coach.

"The most civil, straightforward, decent and smiling young fella you would like to meet," he says.

"He smiles every time you try to talk to him and he doesn't say much, he just smiles. And he doesn't take a lot of coaching, it is only a matter of turning him and pointing him in the right direction the odd time.

"You couldn't get better. I wouldn't want to insult any other player I have managed, but this boy is at the highest end of it."

This Sunday, with little at stake, Tyrone have the opportunity to do something novel and go man-for-man. There is a sense that they may need to do something like that in order to win an All-Ireland, so to try it against Kerry must be tempting with survival already assured.

Kerry will channel their efforts through Clifford, who has 0-21 so far, 0-12 of it coming from frees.

Tyrone will look for Brennan close to goals.

"Finishers are always crucial and Lee, Mark Bradley, and Ronan O'Neill, they are genuine finishers," adds Logan.

"They are irreplaceable in any system, no matter what you are playing."

Sunday is a rare chance to cut loose with a stacked attack. Watch closely.

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