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Dublin: 18 °C Tuesday 16 July, 2019
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From All-Ireland hurling wins in Croke Park to Champions Cup rugby in the Sportsground

David Breen has gone from life with Na Piarsaigh to life with Wasps.

David Breen celebrates with the cup David Breen celebrates Na Piarsaigh's All-Ireland club triumph. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

ON ST PATRICK’S Day last, David Breen finally hit the hurling jackpot.

He’d been frustrated in his efforts to bag an All-Ireland medal with Limerick, a couple of shattering semi-final losses to Clare in 2013 and Kilkenny in 2014 the closest he came.

Na Piarsaigh had been schooled in hard knocks as well, semi-final defeats in 2012 and 2014.

In February that semi-final hoodoo was finally broken, Breen bagging 1-2 as Na Piarsaigh saw off Oulart-the-Ballagh after extra-time in Thurles.

The following month’s All-Ireland final was the perfect expression of the talent in their team as they became the first Limerick club to become the best senior hurling team in the country.

They struck 2-25 past Cushendall with Breen notching a brace of points, his younger brother Adrian man-of-the-match with a 1-4 tally and his older brother Kieran anchoring the defence.

Adrian Breen Na Piarsaigh forward Adrian Breen Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Champions in the Croke Park sunshine after a campaign where they saw off the Clare, Tipperary, Waterford, Leinster and Ulster kingpins.

Perfect.

“It was dream come true stuff,” he recalls.

“Getting onto a pitch like Croke Park, the day is perfect, the pitch is perfect and guys produce the goods. The big difference was probably our preparation during the winter break.

“We got our preparation spot on. It is very satisfying when you’re finished, done and dusted with the season.

“You look back in terms of the teams that we did beat in terms of being under serious pressure at different stages against really high quality clubs and prevailing. It was pretty nice.”

Nine months to the day and Breen will have a front-row view of another Irish sporting collision today, west along the M6 from Croke Park as he’ll be pitchside at the Sportsground.

For the past few years Breen’s day job has been a physio with Leinster rugby. Based in Dublin, it made for a hectic schedule in juggling that with the commitments of a Limerick hurler.

Last November he stepped away from the inter-county game yet the demands of elite club hurling still consumed him.

After Na Piarsaigh’s club exploits concluded, he sat back and opted to take the plunge elsewhere. He’d enjoyed his time with Leinster, forging friendships with players like his housemate Tadhg Furlong but an opportunity arose further afield.

At the end of June he moved to take up a position as first-team physio with Wasps, who currently sit atop Pool 2 in the Champions Cup and are only a point off the summit in second place in the English Premiership.

After last week’s win at the Ricoh Arena, they head to Galway this afternoon to renew acquaintances with Connacht.

“It was a first team position that was offered that enticed me to come over. The fact that it’s a really good club and it’s definitely on the up. I’ve been enjoying it.

“A lot more responsibility with first team than academy but there’s good support around you. You’re never entirely on your own.”

Wasps Photocall Wasps physio David Breen Source: Tony Marshall via Wasps.co.uk

He would have taken in Wasps European Cup games on TV over the years but they weren’t a club whose progress he monitored forensically.

Before making the switch, the 31 year-old did his research. It was last April before Wasps bowed out of the Champions Cup with a semi-final loss to Saracens and May before their Premiership run ended with a last four defeat to Exeter Chiefs.

Breen had plenty opportunities to closely watch matches and he was in regular contact with Ali James when his switch was locked down.

“It was a pretty short pre-season, seven or eight weeks, because Wasps finished so late in the season last year.

“It was straight into the deep end from the start. It was a baptism of fire but it was enjoyable.”

Josh Bassett celebrates his try Wasps players celebrating Josh Bassett's try against Connacht last week Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Wasps roots are originally in London but they play in the Ricoh Arena in Coventry and have switched their training base to that area this season.

“This is the first season that they made the move fully from Acton in London,” states Breen.

“Now we’re based in a placed called Broadstreet Rugby Club which is just outside Coventry. The training centre is being developed this season.

“I’m living nearby in a town called Leamington Spa, near Warwick, it’s a really nice area. Luckily enough I moved in with a Cork man Gordon Brett that was working in Munster for the last few years.

“He just started here on the S&C side of things. It’s good to have a lad from back home in the same situation as yourself.”

Prop Marty Moore was another familiar face, having made the off-season switch from Leinster to Wasps on the playing side. A daily routine was quickly established with the club.

Marty Moore arrives Marty Moore arriving before last Sunday's game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We meet up early in the morning for breakfast, then we have a medical team meeting before the players come in. The players would generally be scheduled in from eight o’clock.

“We’d be seeing them then right throughout the morning until their first gym session or speed session.

“Depending on the day then, they’d have backs or forward units and then rugby in the afternoons. That’s your general layout of the day.

“Mornings are pretty hectic but after guys get out on the pitch, you’ve time to work on your longer term injured players that you’d be taking through rehab or returning them.”

He enjoys observing the pitch sessions and trying to absorb nuggets of information.

“It’s always just interesting to look at what the coaches do in rugby and compare it to how you could influence hurling.

“How aspects in preparation in rugby could be instilled into the GAA and you could make different improvements in your own sport.

“Coming from a different sport, you’re still an athlete and you’re still talking the same language as the guys every day.

“They just love their sport first and foremost, and they’re lucky to be doing it for a living.”

general view fans Wasps fans at last Sunday's game against Connacht Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

The Wasps players have started to figure out hurling as a sport.

“I’m pretty much teaching them the rules from scratch. We’ve got a few hurleys lying around the training centre there. A couple of the guys are learning to hit the ball.

“They’d all be aware of hurling but they wouldn’t know too much about us. It helps now with hurling and football on Sky, they can tune in and watch a couple of games.

“They’re pretty intrigued and a lot of them are curious.”

Hearing what Breen’s inter-county schedule was like and that he pursued it as an amateur is something the Wasps professionals cannot quite fathom.

“They can’t get their heads around that players aren’t paid. I suppose once you explain the ethos around the game, that you play wherever you’re from and wherever you’re born into, that’s your club and that’s your county for better or for worse, then they kind of get it a bit more.

“But definitely the payment side of things, they struggle to get their head around. It’s unique The penny kind of drops that you really just do it for the love of the game. There’s no extra perks.

“They have a lot of admiration for the players but they generally think you’re a lunatic playing the sport, guys with stick and helmets running around a field!”

Stephen Walsh, Seanie Tobin, David Breen and Thomas Ryan David Breen with Limerick team-mates after the 2013 Munster hurling final win Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Home is never too far away. The shocking news of Anthony Foley’s passing in October was a jolt to the Wasps setup as well, the reaction an insight for Breen of the status that the Munster great held.

“I met him myself on a few occasions myself just briefly and he was an absolute gent of a man.

“It was just a huge shock really amongst players. It must be so difficult for family and friends in Shannon and Munster. It was certainly a big talking point over here.”

Breen hasn’t completely abandoned his hurling interest. He was glad to see his friend and former Árd Scoil Rís schoolmate Paul Kinnerk join the Limerick hurling camp for 2017, intrigued to see what him and Joe O’Connor can bring from their Clare All-Ireland winning experience.

Last month he got home for the Na Piarsaigh All-Ireland medal presentation as well. Na Piarsaigh did endure a hangover in 2016 as they exited the group stages in Limerick in August. They’ll go again next year.

“For me, I’m not going to be switching to a British club or anything like that. I’m going to be trying to keep myself fit and keep the touch in and keep hurling as much as I can.

“If I get the opportunity to come home and play a couple of games next year, I’ll do that. We’ll just have to see how it fits into the schedule here but you have to put work first.

“If I was to never tog out for Na Piarsaigh again, I couldn’t ask for a better exit than winning the All-Ireland club. Unfortunately we didn’t have a great season this year, but I think guys are just mad keen to go again next year.”

Before that is the entrance to the Sportsground tonight. When the pool draws were made, it was a fixture that Breen circled on the calendar, an away trip to an Irish province and a guaranteed raucous pre-Christmas atmosphere.

Another sporting showdown at the close of a memorable 2016.

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Fintan O'Toole

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