'If I have to build from the bottom again, I will' - My LGFA Life with Sligo captain Nicola Brennan

Nicola Brennan – Sligo


Age: 30

Club: Tourlestrane

Occupation: Fitness instructor

County debut: 2017

Notable achievements: 1 Connacht championship (Sligo)

3 Connacht championship colleges (St Attracta’s)

1 All-Ireland runners up, 1 Connacht championship (Tourlestrane)


Q: Nicola, thanks for chatting to us. How have you found your experience of playing Ladies Football?


A: I have loved it to be honest. I feel like I’ve been involved forever. The last few years in particular have been unreal. After spending so many years in the shadows of the GAA, it has been a real experience being a part of the game when it’s becoming as popular as it is. To be part of it now, when the game is getting as much coverage as it is, is really spectacular. It’s making me think I will never retire as it goes from strength to strength each year.


Q: What was it that sparked your interest in the sport from a young age?


A: I couldn’t really say if I’m honest. I have literally only every known football. My Dad was so heavily involved when I was growing up and it was just normal every day in our house. Football was our religion every Sunday and I just loved it. I never considered not playing. My dad was camp coordinator with the Cúl camps so my summers were spent on the pitch from a very young age. And I definitely wouldn’t miss an opportunity to get out of the classroom to go to a game in national school, any excuse!


Q: When did you pull on the Sligo jersey for the first time, and how big a thrill was that?


A: The first time I played for Sligo was back when I was maybe 13. I remember the trainings were outrageous and I was convinced I was destined for the bench, if I was lucky! The talent at the trials was crazy. I couldn’t believe when I got picked to start for the first game at wing forward. All I could think about was the fact I was being chosen as one of the top 15 players in Sligo at U14 level. Sadly the occasion got to me and I was worse than useless and it wasn’t long until I got the curly finger calling me to the line. Somehow I got a second chance the next day out and actually let myself enjoy the game and managed to stay on for the full 60 minutes. It was brilliant though, a real honour.


Q: What is the best thing for you about playing Ladies Football?


A: It’s the social aspect hands down. The bonds you make with your teammates throughout each year is the best part by far. You make so many friends that you can always rely on throughout the year. No matter how tough a year you have you will always be able to walk into the dressing room and have a laugh with someone, even on the toughest of days.


Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?


A: Definitely my Dad. He is my biggest critic but my biggest support and you couldn’t ask for more. Since I was small I was always known as “Anto’s  young one” . He was a very talented player back in his day, played for Sligo and Connacht. He retired at a young age with injuries but went straight into management and had a real knack for it. I always try to view games from his perspective because he sees things in games that I can never until it’s pointed out. My sisters and I always laugh and say: ‘if he takes the mick and says you were brutal after a game, then you played well. If he is being nice then you should be worried.’ He loves the game just as much as I do.


Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced in your career so far?


A: The biggest challenge would be injuries. I took a year off and ever since I came back I have just faced one niggly injury after another. I don’t have any patience at all and for someone who gets injured so often it isn’t a good mix. The other challenge that definitely affects my county football is my job. When you work for yourself, you feel so guilty being away from work. Playing for Sligo takes up more time for sure, so it can be hard at times, especially when I show up to class injured from a game. Trying to coach can be hard but you make it work if you want it to work.


Q: You’re mum to Levanna, who turned six earlier this year. How would you describe your experience of motherhood and its effect on you as a person?


A: Yeah it made me grow up a lot and start taking things more serious. In relation to football, I honestly thought my chance with Sligo was gone. I had always intended to go in and try out for Sligo. Then I had Levanna, and the realisation of how little of a chance I had to make a debut with Sligo after becoming a mum, and having not played there before, it would be a big ask. But I remember after I had her and went back to football, I actually realised that if I was going to play and leave her a few times a week, it was going to have to be for a good reason. So I got my love for the game back, I started enjoying everything about it again and started training harder. It paid off because the following year I got invited into the panel so I was delighted. I’d love to say here that being the only mother on both my club and county teams would mean I would be the mature one who always guides everyone along but I am the biggest messer and always the one driving the managers mad, being childish. Anyone who comes in to work with us, or any new players that join, you can literally see the shock on their face when I tell them I have a daughter. Hard to believe someone who acts so daft can be responsible for another human being! But Levanna is amazing and probably already more mature than me. The most important thing for me now that I have a daughter is to just set a good example for her. It’s never too late to do anything you want to do as long as you’re willing to work hard at it.

Nicola in action against Roscommon’s Jenny Higgins. 


Q: How big an honour is it to captain your county team?


A: It’s hard to put into words if I’m honest. I’m the sort of person who thinks I’m aiming high but soon realise I can go higher. Just making the panel seemed outrageous, then I made the team. All I wanted to do this year was have a good year that I can look back on and say I enjoyed it. With the new managers coming in I knew I had a lot of work to do to make the team again. I was literally floored when they asked me to captain the team. I have looked at Sligo LGFA from afar for most of my adult career. My club teammates that joined over the years were the cream of the crop and a lot of them would be on the bench when they played for Sligo. I never thought I was at that level or even close. I love all the girls in there, I have developed some amazing friendships with them over the last few years. To be able to lead them out to games was amazing and such an honour. It was a pity the year got cut short when it did but thankfully we will get back and I will be so proud to captain those girls again.


Q: You’ve spoken previously about how you were something of a late starter as a Ladies footballer. Do you regret the years you missed out on or was it all part of your journey?  


A: Yeah i won’t lie, looking back i do regret the way I handled football over those years. I just didn’t appreciate it. I played club all bar one year but i was just doing it for the sake of it. I wasn’t taking it serious. I know now i missed out on a lot of opportunities because i just didn’t have the right attitude. It was just something to do, somewhere to go and I can’t help but feel I let people down. I know it was frustrating for some of my managers to see me underperforming ,it certainly was for my Dad, and I’m sure I annoyed some teammates too along the way. But that’s life. Part of me would wish I had taken it seriously but really I wouldn’t change a thing because I’m happy where I am now. If I got opportunities, they could have led me down a different path, could have been better or worse. Who knows? I’m happy enough i started to take it seriously when I did. I had a reason then and that reason was Levanna. She is a better motivator for me than anything or anyone else.


Q: How big a goal is it to represent your county at Croke Park?


A: It’s the ultimate goal. It has always been the number one on my list and I’m sure for many others as well. When I was ten years old, rattling the ball against the shed wall, I was imagining I was 20 yards out bearing down on goal in front of Hill 16. We came so close back in 2018, playing Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final. I was crushed at the final whistle as I could see us winning up until the last minute. I have full faith we will be there at least once before I hang up the boots.


Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your career?


A: Mainly to keep enjoying playing. I have experienced some amazing years of football and some not so amazing. There is no need for the latter in my opinion and it all comes down to the individual and how you view it. So keeping the right attitude…I do hope to run out onto Croke Park someday. I remember when I was pregnant and the hormones were all over the place…I had a breakdown thinking that opportunity was gone, something I had always dreamed of. But here I am playing with a really competitive team and we are definitely close, so the dream is still alive.


Q: Have you played other sports?


A: I played basketball years ago, won a lot of medals and trophies but never had that much interest in it. Athletics as well, when I was younger, joined a few clubs and went to Mosney for the All-Ireland three times. Nothing else bar that, really.


Q: Do you have a favourite photograph from your career?


A: Yes, this is the best one I have by a mile. Winning the club’s first ever Connacht final with Tourlestrane. We had lost one five years before this and I was about 6 months pregnant with Levanna. Standing there with the win and her beside me was amazing. I will never forget that day.

Q: How have you managed to cope with the experience of lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in light of the business you operate?



It has been challenging. In the beginning it was extremely stressful, not knowing how long it will last, where was I going to make money, so many concerns. After a few weeks I was fine. I enjoyed having time to myself. I think I needed to slow down a bit. I realised I was literally going from 5am to 11pm some days and I really did not need to be! It is worrying, still wondering will I ever get my business back to where it was but I’m not stressing over it. When the time comes, I will go back and if I have to build from the bottom again, I will. It has been strange but there have been a lot of positives to come out of it too – the charity work done nationwide being the biggest. To see so many teams come together and do some quirky gimmick to raise as much as they could was brilliant. It shows how good-natured Irish people are and it was brilliant to see.


Q: You play your club football with Tourlestrane. What has that experience of club football been like for you?  


A: The team that we have built over the last four years is the highlight of the club career for me. We got these young girls up from underage, we got brilliant management and in 2018 we got to an All-Ireland final. That year alone solidified why I love football. I have never and may never again experience what I did with my clubmates that year. The All-Ireland semi-final was the best. We travelled to Carlow, went down the day before and stayed in Portlaoise. We were stuck with each other for almost two full days and had the most amazing weekend. So much fun, daft stories and the cherry on top was we won the next day. Most of the parish made the three-hour journey down to support us too. When we left, they waved us off and when the final whistle went they cheered us like heroes. It was amazing. You can’t compare with club, it’s grassroots! I was lucky to have a year like that and I’ll work as hard as I can to get another. But every step of your club is comfortable, it’s what you begin with and it will be what I will finish with.


Q: What’s your career highlight?


A: Definitely getting the honour of captaining Sligo ladies for sure. It doesn’t get much better than that – it’s amazing. Reaching an All-Ireland final with the club was another. It will only be topped by winning one now.


Q: How confident are you that Sligo can emerge as a leading contender for the 2020 TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship, after some disappointing semi-final defeats in recent times?


A: What has happened in the last few years is irrelevant. Yes, Sligo Ladies have lost a few semi-finals but it has been a different team in almost all those games. It is tough to take but the biggest part of your game is how resilient you can be. We bounced back every year so far, were knocking on the door and we will get it kicked down. This year, more than most, is a complete fresh start with everyone being given the same length of time to prepare. We have every chance of doing it this year.


Q: What piece of advice would you offer to up and coming young players?


A: Work hard both on and off the pitch. Work hard on looking after your body when you’re away from the pitch, when you get to my age you will know why that’s important. And work hard on the pitch. Train hard when you get together with your teammates and it will transpire when it comes to game time. You will get back whatever effort you put in. And always work both feet…just like your hands, two feet are better than one.


Q: And who’s given you the best piece of advice during your career?


A: This will be from Dad’s great book of motivational quotes! Hard work beats talent, when talent isn’t willing to work hard.


Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?


A: Socialising is my hobby! Ah no, I don’t really have hobbies. I like to spend my spare time arguing with a six-year-old version of myself mainly. Most of my hobbies nowadays would include colouring and imaginary tea parties with unicorns and princesses!


Q: You’re hosting a dinner party, and you can invite 5 people. Who’s on the list and what are you rustling up for your guests to eat?


A: Katie Walsh. I wouldn’t have a party of any kind without her, she’s a party essential, always brings the craic.

Sarah Brennan. She is Katie’s partner in crime so I don’t think Katie would come without her anyway.

Leah Kelly. During this lockdown she has taking up working on her culinary skills so I’ll bring her to cook the food for me.

Michael Murphy. He’s just an outrageous footballer, I might learn a bit.

Tom Hardy. Well, we will need something good to look at.


Q: And finally, who’s your all-time sporting idol?


A: Ciaran McDonald without a shadow of a doubt. I doubt there has ever been a better player to play the game than him. He looks like he was born with a football in his hand, his natural skill is outrageous!


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