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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019

'I realised I was finished and I didn't want to leave it go' - From Kerry stalwart to Wexford star

Bernie Breen’s inter-county career has been an interesting one to date.

FROM THE GREEN and gold of Kerry to the purple and gold of Wexford, Bernie Breen is still going strong. And loving every minute of the journey.

Tipperary v Wexford - Lidl Ladies Football National League Div 3 Final Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

A stalwart for the Kingdom, Breen first played senior inter-county football at the age of 14 and caught the eye as she coincidingly lined out with various teams at underage county, club, and schools level.

Interestingly, she completely parked ladies football at the age of 18 to pursue other areas of her life. There was a lengthened hiatus, and she didn’t return until she hit 26.

The freshness and the hunger all helped as she established herself once again as a vital cog to the Kerry side, her engine pivotal as she called the shots in midfield for years to come.

But then came 2016. It was a decision she had been mulling over for some time, making the move to Wexford to where her partner was based.

“I was actually going to move up a year before in 2015 and I said, ‘No. I’ll stay one more year and give it a go,’” she says at the launch of the FitrWoman app in Croke Park.

Kerry v Waterford - TG4 All Ireland Senior Championship Source: SPORTSFILE

There was a sense that 2016 was the year. Kerry were close, it was just making that breakthrough to get over the line. Breen had it in her head that this was it, she knew from the very start, right through the league up until their championship exit.

“We got a hammering by Monaghan, so that kind of made up my mind too,” she grins, almost covering up the disappointment of that 6-17 to 1-16 All-Ireland quarter-final loss, but it still shines through.

In truth, her mind was made up long before that though, she admits.

When Breen moved to Wexford, filling that void in her life was high up on the to-do list. She got in touch with Anthony Masterson — who was, and still is, the Wexford senior manager.

“I was like, ‘I might go in training,’” she explains. “I suppose I realised that I was finished and I didn’t want to leave it go.

“Then I went in training in January and February. We just spoke about it and went from there really.”

Meath v Wexford - Lidl Ladies Football National League Division 3 Final Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

She adds, on home: “Yeah, I miss the people down there. You miss your family and friends.

“But it’s a long drive, it’s three-and-a-half hours. It’s a lot of commitment if you’re still going to be playing. It would have been a seven-hour trip and that’s kind of coming out of your own pocket too, you know.

“I didn’t really want to give up. So I was like, ‘I might as well continue.’ I miss it but I get up and down as much as I can.”

Breen still keeps in touch with the Kerry girls she played with in ‘younger, younger years,’ she smiles, naming the likes of Patrice Dennehy, Sarah Houlihan and Amanda Brosnan as those she stays in contact with.

She follows the team as a whole too, and is clearly pleased by their progress over the last few months. There were some turbulent times; controversies with the county board, relegation to Division 2 of the Lidl Ladies National Football League and Graham Shine’s resignation as manager.

But after a positive Munster campaign in which they reached the decider against Cork, they’re back on track.

Bernie Breen Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I think they’re after getting it together down there now. I suppose it wasn’t really fair on the players what was happening in the county board. I think they were kind of suffering.

“But there’s a new chairperson, a new group gone in there now. Look, they had a win over Waterford, which is good, and they had a crack at the Munster final.

“There’s a lot of new players, underage gone in there, development — so it’s just kind of transition, isn’t it?”

Breen’s a qualified personal trainer but is taking a break from that work at the minute to try something new. She’s studying healthcare online, hoping to get into social care further down the line.

And when she’s not kept busy with that or playing her own football, she’s out doing a bit of refereeing. She started that in January, has a few games under her belt now and is working her way onto Level One.

“Now I respect them a lot more to be honest!” she smiles when asked about her relationship with referees as a player.

Bernie Breen Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Now I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so terrible!’ Some of the abuse, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, is this what they go through?’ It’s tough like, and that’s underage. I have a newfound respect for referees. It’s interesting. It’s something different, a lot different!”

Wexford are a side who have well and truly been rising through the ranks the last few years. Last year, they were caught on the hop a few times late on by Shane Ronayne’s Tipperary side, who went on to collect the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 3 and 2 titles and TG4 All-Ireland intermediate title over the space of 12 months.

There is that slight envy, surely, but Breen’s admiration for what they’ve achieved comes to the fore.

It drives her side on too.

“It’s unreal,” she continues. “Jesus, fair dues to them they’re still going strong. There was nothing between us really, which shows that that could have been us up there.

“Fair dues to them, I know they came up against Cork (in this year’s Munster semi-final) but look Cork are a strong team. They weren’t far off them, it was only five points I think in the end. It could have been Wexford, yeah.

LGFA and Orreco team up to promote ground-breaking FitrWoman App Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

“Even Division 2 is a different ball game altogether, there is a huge step up. We felt that with Laois last Sunday, they had been playing Division 2 and this is their first year back down (in intermediate championship).”

That Laois match she’s alluding too was of course their TG4 Leinster championship semi-final a few weeks ago. It was close but it ended in a disappointing exit.

It was a tight one but they just didn’t come out on the right side at the final whistle. That’s football, she agrees.

“It’s a hard one to take but look, many teams go through it. You just have to regroup,” Breen admits, as she’s reminded of better days as they lifted the Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 3 crown in May,

“Well, last Sunday kind of brought us back down to earth with a bang! The league was great, we were pushing that since last year. We were delighted with that, but as I said, back to square one again.”

Source: LadiesFootballTV/YouTube

Their focus immediately switches to the revamped round-robin format of the All-Ireland intermediate championship, and first up later today is Kildare. They’re no strangers to each other after clashing several times this year already. This year’s Tipp, she grins.

“We’ll be best of buds by the end of the year! Kildare, Down and Clare are in our group so that’s a tough group. Top two come out of it so hopefully we’ll be in that top two.”

That’s what they’re all hoping.

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Emma Duffy

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