Wednesday 23 January 2019

Breheny adapting to life outside the wire

Breheny gives Sligo a chance at the weekend.. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Breheny gives Sligo a chance at the weekend.. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Back in early February, Mark Breheny took himself up to Markievicz Park to take in a game. Wexford were in town to play Sligo in the second round of the Division 3 league. But for the first time in almost two decades, Breheny was on the outside looking in.

A steward, recognising the old warrior in his new guise, flicked him a program.

"You won't have to pay for this one Mark," he smiled.

Breheny, the country's longest-serving footballer when he made the decision to step away last January, took in the match caught somewhere between wishing he was still involved and glad he had made the call.

"I weighed it all up," he said. "I turned 37 in January and I had a lot of miles on the clock ... my body was good but I had to weigh it all up, and it was a huge decision, probably the biggest decision of my life to finally walk away.

"It was an emotional decision, I won't lie about it, it was very emotional to walk away. I was involved with Sligo more than I wasn't involved.

"I was 17 years there and was 36 making the decision so I was doing it more than I wasn't doing it in my lifetime."

There was some nice symmetry to his playing career and there'll be some nice symmetry to his career as a supporter too. He made his Sligo debut as a sub under Peter Forde in a league win over Meath in Navan and signed off in a qualifier defeat there last year. The last championship match he watched as a supporter was against Galway in the summer of 2000. Tomorrow's clash with the Tribesmen will be the first championship match he's watched as a spectator since then.

Nothing tops the 2007 Connacht title win, when a Sligo team managed by his brother Tommy were crowned kings of the west. They missed a big chance in 2010 when they saw off both of Connacht's big two in Galway and Mayo only to lose the provincial decider to Roscommon.

The 2012 Connacht final defeat, when Mayo came with a late run to win by two points, also sticks in the craw.

Times marches on however and Breheny gives Sligo a chance at the weekend. League form insists Sligo are out of their depth but they are rarely a league team he points out.

His 55 championship games, a Sligo record, are now in the rearview mirror.

"I'm fairly content, I'm looking forward to watching but you'll always have that feeling… I think the first year is always the toughest.

"You always want to play. And if I do become a coach or a manager in years to come I don't think it will ever replace the feeling of getting ready to go, ready for battle, that's what I really will miss, that few minutes before the match."

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