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Saturday 30 August 2014

Irish fans no longer dreaming of a team of Gary Breens

Daniel McDonnell

Published 09/08/2006 | 00:11

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IF you're looking to sum up the legacy of Gary Breen's Ireland career in one little vignette, then look no further than the comical internet video currently doing the rounds which features a group of Korean schoolkids being taught to sing 'We all dream of a team of Gary Breens'. The chant, just like the man himself, was remarkably popular during Ireland's participation in the World Cup four years ago.

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IF you're looking to sum up the legacy of Gary Breen's Ireland career in one little vignette, then look no further than the comical internet video currently doing the rounds which features a group of Korean schoolkids being taught to sing 'We all dream of a team of Gary Breens'.

The chant, just like the man himself, was remarkably popular as he produced a series of flawless displays during Ireland's participation in the World Cup in Japan and Korea four years ago.

It originated from the ranks of Coventry supporters during the defender's time there and was adopted by Irish fans to recognise the novelty value of his displays in the green jersey during that period.

Even when he won the last of his 63 caps in May's friendly with Chile, Breen's introduction to the fray received something of a mixed reaction.

For both club and country, his performances have been characterised by a dramatic divergence between occasional glimpses of brilliance and seemingly needless individual errors.

Attaining consistency was always problem but when he lined up alongside Steve Staunton for Ireland's four games in the World Cup that will forever be associated with Saipan, Breen looked the most polished of performers.

It's a bizarre twist of fate that his retirement from international football should be mentioned in such a matter of fact fashion by his former colleague yesterday.

Maybe if Breen had made a different decision at that time it might have ended differently. He had put himself in the shop window with his performances as a free agent in Asia. There was talk that Parma and Inter Milan wanted him. Numerous Premiership clubs were also mentioned. He chose West Ham.

In the season that followed, the bad outweighed the good as the Hammers plummeted towards relegation. Mick McCarthy left the Irish job and Brian Kerr came in and while Breen started off as a regular, he was gradually phased out of the picture after being involved in the 2-0 defeat to Switzerland in Basel that put an end to Euro 2004 qualification hopes.

Unluckily for Breen, it was the competition he said Ireland could win in the Joe Duffy-led backslapping fest in the Phoenix Park that followed the return from Japan and Korea two years previously.

It looked likely that he would retire from his international commitments numerous times towards the final stages of Kerr's tenure. At club level, he had been re-united with Mick McCarthy at Sunderland but was released after their relegation last year before joining Wolves where, unsurprisingly, he again linked up with - you guessed it - McCarthy.

There's no doubt that the pair are close which is why it was surprising that Roy Keane listed Breen as one of the players who came to him in his hotel room after the final blow-out in Saipan. Then again, Maidstone-born Breen was always capable of the unpredictable.

He deserves to be remembered fondly. Unlike some players with English accents who have represented the Boys in Green, his commitment to the cause from childhood could never have been questioned.

With a father from Kerry and mother from Clare, he grew up aware of his Irishness. He wore a green shirt into his school in Highgate the day after Ray Houghton's header gave Ireland that famous win over England in Stuttgart in 1988.

He's a knowledgeable follower of the Kerry Gaelic football team and recalled watching images of the 'Bomber' Liston, Ogie Moran and Jack O'Shea growing up. His lasting regret may be missing out on the chance to play at Croke Park, something he had spoken about passionately.

While he steps to one side, the chant that remains so popular in Korea could one day make a re-appearance. A recent Irish U17 squad featured the name of Manchester City's Garry Breen. A different spelling of the Christian name but a centre-half by trade.

The fact remains that whether you loved him or loathed him, the original Breen will always be remembered. Better players have made less of an impression during their time in the green jersey.

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