Belfast Telegraph

Football family pays tribute to ex-Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin

Ryan Catney and Barry Johnston carry Tommy’s coffin
Ryan Catney and Barry Johnston carry Tommy’s coffin
A young mourner
Glenn Ferguson
David Jeffrey
Fr Gary Donegan
Tommy Breslin
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

The Gibson Cup was adorned with red ribbons at the funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin as the Irish League fraternity remembered one of local football's greats.

The former Reds player and boss was just 58 when he passed away suddenly on August 7, while on holiday after attending a wedding in Spain.

At yesterday's funeral Mass at St Gerard's Church in north Belfast, hundreds of mourners gathered as the two-time title-winning manager was remembered with a guard of honour made up of the current Cliftonville squad and staff wearing the famous red.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey, Linfield legend Glenn Ferguson and former Portadown and Glentoran boss Ronnie McFall were just some of the famous faces paying their respects.

Many of the players who made up Mr Breslin's famous back-to-back league-winning side in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons also gathered at the funeral.

In a fitting tribute, Linfield agreed to relinquish the Gibson Cup for the service as the blue ribbons were replaced with Cliftonville red, proving the strong bonds that exist in the Irish League family.

As part of the proceedings, the funeral cortege made its way down the Cliftonville Road for a commemorative stop at Solitude, where Mr Breslin won eight trophies during his four-year spell in the dugout, before his burial at Roselawn Cemetery.

Hundreds of fans dressed in green and red jerseys lined the streets as Mr Breslin made one last visit to the home of his beloved football club, where a sign fittingly read, 'player... manager... legend'.

Celebrant Fr Gary Donegan, a close friend of Mr Breslin, wore a Cliftonville scarf during the service, something that he promised the former manager he would do if he ever had to conduct his funeral.

"Tommy said to me 'would you do my funeral?'" Fr Donegan told the congregation. "I said I would do it only if I could wear a Cliftonville scarf so here goes... I never thought I would be doing it as Tommy is only three years older than I am.

Tommy Breslin's coffin, flanked by Cliftonville player past and present along with managers, travels along the Cliftonville Road near to Cliftonville's ground Solitude. Credit: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Tommy Breslin's coffin, flanked by Cliftonville player past and present along with managers, travels along the Cliftonville Road near to Cliftonville's ground Solitude. Credit: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Fr Gary Donegan and sports reporter Jackie Fullerton Cliftonville fans pictured on the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where Tommy Breslin's coffin passed by flanked and carried by players, past players and managers. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Sports reporter Adrian Logan pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Fr Gary Donegan pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Ballymena manager David Jeffrey pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Comedian John Lenahan pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Former Portadown manager Ronnie McFall pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Former Cliftonville player Chris Scannell pictured as his coffin is carried along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Former Cliftonville players Ryan Catney and Ronan Scannell pictured as his coffin is carried along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Current Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughin and assistant manager Declan O'Hara pictured as his coffin is carried along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's former player Ryan Catney and Barry Johnston carry his coffin along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's former assistant manager to Tommy Breslin Peter Murray pictured as his coffin is carried along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's former captain George McMullan and Chairman Gerard Lawlor carry his coffin along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's former captain George McMullan, Chairman Gerard Lawlor , former assistant manager to Tommy Breslin Peter Murray and current captain Chris Curran carry his coffin along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's Chairman Gerard Lawlor , former assistant manager to Tommy Breslin Peter Murray and current captain Chris Curran carry his coffin along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's former captain George McMullan, Chairman Gerard Lawlor , former assistant manager to Tommy Breslin Peter Murray and current captain Chris Curran carry his coffin along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville's former assistant manager to Tommy Breslin Peter Murray and current captain Chris Curran carry his coffin along the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where it passed by flanked and carried by players, past players, managers and fans. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Cliftonville fans pictured on the Cliftonville Road near their home ground Solitude where Tommy Breslin's coffin passed by flanked and carried by players, past players and managers. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. Credit: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge. Martin Donnelly (Left) and other players. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Former Cliftonville player Barry Johnston pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Former Linfield striker Glenn Ferguson pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Comedian and Cliftonville fan Tim McGarry pictured at the funeral. Credit: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Former Portadown manager Ronnie McFall pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly and Carl N Chuiln pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th August 2019 Funeral of former Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin at St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road in north Belfast. The 58-year-old died suddenly while on holiday in Spain three weeks ago. Mr Breslin led Cliftonville FC to eight trophies in four seasons while in charge Comedian and Cliftonville fan Tim McGarry pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter pictured at the funeral. Credit: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

"We're here to remember Thomas, Tommy, Bressie, Breslin and while we celebrate his life we acknowledge the reflections of the wider community, in particular the sporting community, for the loss of Thomas.

"Today, it's important that our main focus is his family - his sisters and the wider family circle - because in the end we all claim to be part of Tommy and we have to thank them for the generosity in sharing this special man with us."

Fr Donegan added that the sense of Mr Breslin's loss was reflected in the heartfelt tributes provided by his fellow Irish League managers as they spoke of the Cliftonville legend.

Tommy Breslin
Tommy Breslin

The north Belfast club was in his DNA, Fr Donegan continued, as he guided the club to two Gibson Cups, three consecutive League Cup triumphs, two Co Antrim Shield victories and a Charity Shield win in just four years, making him the most successful manager in its history after taking over in 2011.

"Despite all those remarkable achievements, when we speak about Thomas we speak about his smile and his mischievous sense of humour," Fr Donegan added.

"Most of all, we'll remember the person that Bressie was."

Fr Donegan described Mr Breslin as a man of peace who didn't have a sectarian bone in his body and he reminded those present to honour his memory by "taking up that mantra of peace".

Speaking after the funeral, football commentator Jackie Fullerton said that Mr Breslin was "a man of great dignity, decency and as we've seen from the turnout today at the chapel, the Northern Ireland football family just loved Tommy Breslin, may he rest in peace".

Mr Breslin is survived by his partner Valerie, sisters Bernadette, Anne, Maura and Paula, and the wider family circle.

Following the service Mr Breslin was buried in Roselawn Cemetery.

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