Belfast Telegraph

Legend as a manager, legend as a person: Tommy Breslin hailed by Cliftonville and Crusaders coaches as north Belfast unites to remember a hero

Tommy Breslin led Cliftonville to back-to-back league titles and will forever be hailed as a hero at Solitude.
Tommy Breslin led Cliftonville to back-to-back league titles and will forever be hailed as a hero at Solitude.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

No matter who you ask, friend or foe, nobody has a bad word to say about Tommy Breslin.

That has been true throughout the legendary Cliftonville manager's illustrious career and remains so as north Belfast's footballing rivalry remembers him.

Breslin's sudden passing was announced by the club on Wednesday evening, plunging the Irish League community into mourning with the new season set to kick-off this weekend.

A former Reds player, Breslin was assistant to Eddie Patterson from 2005 and took the reins himself at Solitude in 2011.

He would lead the club to back-to-back league titles in the 12/13 and 13/14 seasons with an exciting side that played an iconic brand of free-flowing football; some of the best ever seen in the division.

in _Read-Only_.png
Hands on the prize: Tommy Breslin lifts the Gibson Cup after Cliftonville defended the trophy for the first time in the club’s history

Current Reds coach Declan O'Hara was a key player when Breslin was assisting Patterson and has nothing but good memories of his former mentor, inside and outside the sport.

"He's one of the nicest guys you could ever meet," said O'Hara. "He was a happy man, always smiling. Win, lose or draw, he was still happy. You would always get a joke out of him.

Sign In

"He will be missed. He's a legend as a person, a legend of the club.

"He's the most successful Cliftonville manage in history. That's massive. All of his players loved him, even if they weren't playing on a Saturday. You could always go and speak to him any time. As a man, as a person and as a manager, he's a legend. That's all I can say about him.

"He was a super player as well. I used to go and watch him as a kid. He got on the ball, played one-twos and scored goals. He was a wee small guy in the middle of the park. He knew what he was talking about. When he talked, you listened.

"I've known him a long time and I've never had a bad word to say about him. Nobody has ever said a bad word about him. You could ask anybody and they would say exactly the same thing.

"The whole league is in shock. It's a sad, sad time for local football. We've lost a legend of the game.

"I'm heartbroken, I know a lot of other ex-players are heartbroken and obviously his family is devastated."

Breslin's Reds sparked a new era of north Belfast dominance in the Irish League, with rivals Crusaders following Cliftonville's title successes with back-to-back wins of their own.

Crues boss Stephen Baxter, who went head-to-head with Breslin throughout his Solitude tenure, recalls not only a rivalry, but even more-so a friendship.

"It's devastating news first and foremost for his family. They are the ones with the really great loss," he said.

2015-03-17_spo_7863192_I1.JPG
Tommy Breslin and Stephen Baxter brought remarkable success to north Belfast

"Tommy and I were fierce rivals in regards to the competition of football matches yet we were the best of friends. We had such a unique relationship over a number of years.

"We talked greatly and fondly over the pressures of the game and how it all worked. We sat together before games when there was no-one in the stadium and we laughed and joked lots of stuff. We had such a brilliant friendship. I missed him when he retired.

"He was a great, great friend of mine. It's devastating news for the football world that we've lost one of the greats. His team was a truly great team who passed the ball well.

"He will go down in Cliftonville's hall of fame for bringing those league titles back there. It's no mean feat. They will mourn one of their greats.

"It's just devastating to hear this news about a young man leaving us so early. My heart goes out to the family. I can only imagine the difficult they are going through right now."

When the Irish League kicks off this weekend, it will do so all the poorer for the loss of a modern-day hero.

But just as he has always done, Tommy Breslin will unite the local footballing community as fans, players and coaches alike remember a universally-loved character.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph