Breheny hits 50 not out as 'fearless youth' drives Sligo on
Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30
He knows his body can't keep going forever but the influx of many rising stars into the Sligo senior fold has added even more energy to the evergreen Mark Breheny.
After Monaghan's shock exit last weekend, he assumes the mantle of longest-serving GAA player left in action this year across both codes from Dick Clerkin and Breheny, 35, is showing no signs of slowing down.
Having debuted in a winter league tie against Meath 16 years ago, their Qualifier defeat of Leitrim marked his 50th championship appearance for Sligo and the St Mary's attacker now finds himself in a unique position.
The Summerhill College secondary school teacher never thought the scenario would arise where he'd be lining out alongside his nephew Cian, nor pupils like teen prodigy Kyle Cawley, but he is revelling in it.
He was part of the management team which helped collect a first Connacht 'A' Championship since 1985 earlier this year and county boss Niall Carew has subsequently given many of these young guns their bow with Sligo.
"Great credit has to go to Niall. He brought them in and they don't look one bit out of place, they've brought huge freshness and it's great for me, an elder statesman of the squad, to see this 'fearless' youth coming in," he says.
"They have no fear and they're taking every game with a freedom so it's fantastic for the whole squad. We've got a lot of lads from the 19-23 age bracket where they're going to be the leaders and the fellas that will drive Sligo football on for the next 10 years.
"It's very heartening to see the talent coming through at the moment. I never thought I'd play with the likes of Kyle Cawley, he's from my own club and I saw him coming up through the ranks, I didn't think I'd play club football with him let alone inter-county. It's gas how things happen sometimes."
The Sligo skipper has witnessed many changes within the inter-county scene since the turn of the millennium but unlike many others, he doesn't see the state of the modern game to be in crisis. He enjoys the tactical evolution while changes in physical preparation can help older players flourish.
"It's not one size fits all and everyone's programme is tailored to their specific needs, honing in on different parts for different people. It's brilliant that way that it can keep the likes of me going longer and longer," he says.
"And they can get performances out of me when the matches come. It's important to keep fresh but I certainly want to do as much as I can; funnily enough I find when I stop my body stiffens up more than anything else.
"I'm actually very intrigued by the modern game, it's interesting because people are talking more about it. If you look at soccer it's evolving all the time and that's what makes things interesting from a player's point of view.
"Every year you look at somebody else and say, 'Right that could be another way to play the game'. I'm intrigued every year and it's great that it's evolving all the time.
"It would be quite boring if it stayed the same the whole time. Even back in the day there were things like the drop-kick but things have evolved so much since then and it's interesting."
The second-half collapse against Roscommon in last month's Connacht semi-final, when leading 2-8 to 0-6 at the break before being outscored 4-10 to 0-5, caused much heartache in the Yeats County but they've parked it.
An early goal "put energy into Roscommon's legs", a blow he admits they never recovered from mentally and left them crestfallen as eyes were set on successive Connacht finals.
But they were afforded an ideal opportunity to get back on the horse against Leitrim and welcome Division 3 champions Clare to town tomorrow with a place in the last 12 up for grabs.
Breheny thrives in Markievicz Park - "it's where we want to play but unfortunately that won't bring the win" - and respects the Banner's credentials. He sees similarities between their growth under Colm Collins and Sligo at the turn of the last decade but he's hoping they can shut down their attack and create their own momentum.
"They're a serious side. Making comparisons to ourselves in 2010, we won back-to-back promotions in 2009/2010 and got up to Division 2 and were very unlucky not to stay there," he says.
"We would've felt that we were looking to break in with the big guns and I know Clare are looking to do that, they're very close to it.
"But it's our job to stop their run. The huge scores they're putting up is something we've looked at and we must tackle that to have a chance."