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Breen keen to set the pace for a first Fermanagh title


Action man: Aidan Breen’s dynamic work-rate will help underpin Fermanagh’s bid to reach the Ulster Championship final
Action man: Aidan Breen’s dynamic work-rate will help underpin Fermanagh’s bid to reach the Ulster Championship final
John Campbell

By John Campbell

More often than not it is the names of those players imbued with silken finishing talents that tend to decorate the narrative of Championship games in particular.

That is understandable, too, given that scores at this level can often prove a precious commodity, with games decided by small margins.

Yet the cut and thrust, often spellbinding and occasionally brutal, of Championship fare also calls for players who possess indomitable stamina, courage in spades and roaring ambition to stand up to the plate.

Step forward Aidan Breen. The adjective 'wholehearted' would surely serve as the Fermanagh tornado's middle name such is his energy, spirit and work ethic.

Sport in general can be an unforgiving environment, but to see Breen, modest almost to a fault but audaciously talented nonetheless, limbering up for Sunday's Ulster Championship semi-final against Monaghan is to observe a competitor receiving an aperitif to what he truly deserves.

The Tempo man, a fixture in the Fermanagh side for several years, is all too aware that the green ribbons of his county have yet to be affixed to the Anglo-Celt Cup for the first time.

Yet rather than curse the darkness he instead shines a light that illuminates the entire Erne camp in their pursuit of what would be a history-making feat.

Even on dank, dark days when Fermanagh were conspicuous by their absence from the headlines, Breen was running himself into the ground, perpetual motion personified as pride in his role surpassed everything else on his radar.

Thus preparations for an Ulster semi-final become almost pleasurable against this backdrop.

"We had been looking no further than Armagh, and with good cause too," smiles Breen.

"We have had a couple of battles with them lately and they maybe had the upper hand, so we owed them one.

"But listen, it's all about the team. Every man knows he has to work hard."

Monaghan will go into Sunday's semi-final at Healy Park, Omagh as warm favourites to reach the decider and perhaps make it three Ulster titles in six years under Malachy O'Rourke, but Fermanagh's renewed resolve, combative spirit and togetherness underpin a team that is intent on taking the most direct route into the Super 8s.

"We were very composed at half-time against Armagh and we felt we could win the game," recalls Breen.

"We were two points up so we just stuck to our game plan in the second-half."

And he offers an insight into just where Fermanagh's priorities lie when he adds: "When we started training before Christmas we weren't just getting ready for the McKenna Cup or the league, we were focussed on the Championship.

"No matter how you do in other competitions, you are judged on how you do in the Championship, and Fermanagh don't have too many Ulster titles."

Breen's ability to dovetail between half-back and half-forward is symptomatic of the versatility within the side.

Conall Jones is proving his worth at full-forward, Declan McCusker's talents as a playmaker are currently blossoming, Barry Mulrone shares Breen's dynamism and skipper Eoin Donnelly leads by inspiring example.

But although promotion has been secured and they are now in the last four hunt for the Ulster crown, Fermanagh have yet to convince a cynical public that they can really pull a big trick out of the bag.

No one is more aware of this than the thoroughly grounded Gallagher, who served the county well as a player before winning an All-Ireland club medal with St Gall's in 2010, as well as helping to plot Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland coup in tandem with Jim McGuinness.

"We learned lessons from the win over Armagh, Sunday will be about fine margins," states Gallagher.

Fermanagh vs Monaghan

Ulster SFC semi-final:

Healy Park, Omagh, Sunday, 2.00pm

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