Belfast Telegraph

Breen can look back on Fermanagh career with pride

By Declan Bogue

Just as Chris Breen was walking into Croke Park on Sunday before the Limerick and Clare hurling semi-final, he experienced a slight knotting of the gut.

Championship was in the air. Roughly 24 hours previously, he had put a call through to Ger Treacy, a member of the Fermanagh football team management, saying that after eight years of service, he was hanging up his gloves.

He won't retire or anything like that. His club Enniskillen Gaels made it past Brookeboro in the Fermanagh Intermediate Championship on Friday night and have a semi-final against Irvinestown to look forward to. 'Breeno' will carry on with the club, that's just the way of it.

For the past two years, he has managed the club's junior side, a most unusual hobby for a county footballer.

There are those that are inclined to go overboard when a player retires from inter-county football.

Statements have been known to be released and threads on discussion boards can resemble lamentations as the tributes head into obituary territory.

It's only a matter of time before somebody writes the dreaded, 'we will never see their likes again'.

That probably won't happen for Chris Breen.

The word 'journeyman' has many negative connotations, but in Ulster football, 99 per cent of players are journeymen who play out their careers without any significant silverware.

The idea that one player's career was ultimately unfulfilling because they didn't amass a drawerful of medals has always been a shoddy premise.

In the wider debate, does that leave the following men stranded in an island of mediocrity: Benny Coulter, Danny Hughes, Paddy and Eoin Bradley, Barry Owens, Dan Gordon, Marty McGrath, Fergal Doherty, James Loughrey, Ryan McCluskey and Jamie Clarke?

On July 20, were the careers of Dick Clerkin, Paul Finlay, Tommy Freeman and Darren Hughes merely that of journeymen, but by the following evening they could be considered major players because they won one more game, this time the Ulster final with Monaghan?

Of course it doesn't.

Breen is one of the most unassuming people you could meet.

And that might have been to his detriment too as you could never picture him metaphorically knocking on a manager's door, demanding to know why he wasn't seeing more gametime.

Instead, he hung in there year after year. A former Northern Ireland schoolboy soccer international, he was understudy to Mickey Keenan at Portadown before he made his Championship debut against Down in 2005.

From then on, it was only Fermanagh for him. He took the place of Niall Tinney, who had been the Young Player of the Year the campaign previously and he battled it out for the goalkeeper's jersey with Ronan Gallagher, James McGrath and Chris Snow thereafter.

His record in Championship football speaks for itself – 11 clean sheets in 13 games. That's dependability.

Though, as he might admit himself, having Barry Owens in his prime standing 10 yards in front of you might have had something to do with it too.

Let's be honest here. Although Breen put the same amount of time into it as anyone else, he would scoff at being labelled an 'elite athlete'.

Goalkeepers don't need to have the bodies of gymnasts and nobody has shown that better than Donegal stopper Paul Durcan (pictured) who, despite being a big man in every sense, still kept 13 clean sheets in the last three years of Championship football.

Compare those stats though to Breen's, who was only first choice goalkeeper for three Championship campaigns.

While Donegal won two Ulster titles, an All-Ireland and reached the quarter-final, Fermanagh in Breen's seasons between the sticks never made it past the Ulster semi-final.

Breen has always been a bit chunky.

In 2008, struggling to shed some beef, the then Fermanagh manager Malachy O'Rourke suggested he might cycle to training.

And so he did, negotiating the murderous Garvary hill on his way to the Lissan training complex, before his team mates would tease him about stopping off for a Chinese meal on his way home afterwards.

Now he's gone. There will be more time for his wife Joanne and recent arrival, baby daughter Niamh, and he has a good chance of adding some club honours to the club championship he won in 2006.

But don't pity him because he didn't win Ulster.

His career, and that of the vast majority of players, can never be measured in such crude terms.

Belfast Telegraph


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