Shades of 2007 as Breheny clan gear up for title tilt
Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30
Tommy Breheny recognises the feeling around Sligo this week, the one where despite some straight-forward logic, something keeps tugging at your sleeve, insisting your side have a chance in a Connacht final.
When he was manager back in 2007 he had that feeling too and Sligo went on to turn over Galway. It was a once-in-a-generation type of win - the county's first provincial title since 1975.
On a personal level, that day was extra special, with his brother Mark and brother-in-law Eamonn O'Hara forming a key part of the team
Sunday's Connacht final could be similarly memorable. Mark Breheny is still there, pulling the strings from centre-forward.
He's one of the longest-serving footballers in the country, and he is set to join an elite group of Sligo footballers when he lines out in his fifth Connacht final.
Tommy's teenage son Cian will likely play at centrefield, for only his second Championship start.
This year's campaign and the 2007 adventure have followed similar paths. Back in '07 Sligo made a poor start to the League but Breheny believed there was more in them.
"I was originally in as a caretaker manager in 2006 and, to be honest, I didn't really intend to hang around that long," Breheny recalls.
"But we had beaten Tyrone in 2002 and pushed Armagh hard that year too.
"A lot of that team was still around. I wanted the players to know they could win something rather than just having memorable victories in their careers.
"And the players bought into that. We had huge belief we could win a Connacht title."
This year has been similar. Three defeats on the bounce meant that they went into the last game of the League in danger of being relegated to the basement division.
As results turned out, they didn't need to beat Armagh in the last round but they did anyway, running out convincing winners against an Orchard side who were already promoted.
"It does remind me of 2007 in some ways. We had a slow start that year too in the league and we beat Roscommon in the championship," says Breheny.
"It is following a similar pattern in some ways. I was at all the League games this year. Down in Limerick we looked very poor and it looked like it could be a long year and that Division 4 could be a real possibility.
"But credit to the management, they made a few changes and tried new things and they settled in."
Despite losing Charlie Harrison - one of just four Sligo footballers to be honoured with an All Star - to a season-ending injury, Sligo still managed to finish the League strongly and went into the Roscommon game in the Connacht Championship with quiet confidence.
"I suppose they wouldn't fear Roscommon and they have a good record in Markievicz Park. And they never panicked, they stuck to the game-plan and saw it out," says Breheny.
Sligo were 6/1 to beat Galway in the '07 final and they are even bigger outsiders this time around against a Mayo side looking to win an unprecedented fifth successive Connacht title. And Sligo's cover has been blown.
"Mayo have been one of the top three teams in the country over the last number of years. Maybe Roscommon took Sligo for granted but Mayo won't do that," says Breheny.
"Sligo have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They were top scorers in all four divisions but went into the last game facing the possibility of relegation. That shows that Sligo's defence will be vital.
"And we need to move the ball quickly to the lads who will score like Mark, Adrian Marren, Pat Hughes and David Kelly.
"I think Sligo will need a few things to go their way and maybe Mayo to be a little bit off, but look, it's a two horse race. Anything can happen."
And once again it will be a family affair for the Brehenys. Cian (19) was good enough for AFL side Hawthorn to invite him Down Under for a fortnight last year.
Mark could have the honour of lifting a second Nestor Cup as captain of Sligo. It would be fitting.
Tommy reckons his brother hasn't missed a club Championship game in 17 years, even when he had the chance to play football Stateside for a summer.
Still, these things are never given out easily. "There's no room for sentiment in a Connacht final," warns Tommy.