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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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'If I had a euro for every time I was called a f*cking Black and Tan or an English c**t'

Beaufort’s Welsh native Nathan Breen is bidding for the ultimate glory in Croke Park later today.

AT AROUND 4.15PM this afternoon, Nathan Breen is hoping to become the first Welsh-born player to captain his team to glory in Croke Park. 

Nathan Breen of Beaufort at the AIB GAA Club Championship Media Day Nathan Breen of Beaufort at the AIB GAA Club Championship Media Day. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

The Beaufort captain leads his side into battle against Sligo’s Easkey in the All-Ireland club JFC decider at headquarters. His has been the road-less travelled, certainly in a GAA context. 

With a Kerry father and Welsh mother, Breen spent the first 13 years of his life in Wales. The family, including Nathan and his sister, upped sticks and moved back to his father’s hometown in 2006, with the Celtic Tiger in full roar.

Before then, his only exposure to Gaelic football had been watching the odd All-Ireland final on TV or during their annual summer holidays to the Kingdom.

“My dad would bring me up to the park at the back of the house and he’d have me soloing and kicking points over the soccer goals.

“We were over and back to and from Kerry every summer and maybe at Easter. I’d have been kicking a football with my cousins.

He heard that the Irish economy was good around that time. We came over in the summer of 2006 and it wasn’t too long after that when the whole thing went on its head. You can’t really foresee those things.”

The early days were tough, however. Teenagers can be cruel, particularly on the new kid with a Welsh accent. The abuse started as soon as he was “off the ferry”.

“The amount of grief I got starting out for a long portion of underage was tough stuff,” Breen admits.

If I had a euro for every time I was called a fucking Black and Tan or an English c*nt – I had to listen to that for a good few years. It’s didn’t bother me.

“I didn’t give it much thought at the time. When you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times.”

AIB GAA Club Championship Media Day Nathan Breen and Noel McGuire of Easkey ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Junior Football Club Championship Final. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

Breen says the “one benefit” from the abuse he received on the field was that it made him mentally tougher. 

“There’s enough to be thinking about other than insults or anything like that. I’m not really affected by anyone having a go at me on the field. 

“Playing football made the transition so much easier. Once you fall into those kind of set-ups, you’re a part of the team. Your teammates have your back. If anything, it gelled me quicker into the team. Since my first training session, I’ve always go tremendous support from teammates.” 

“One or two” scuffles broke out over the years when his team-mates jumped in to defend his honour.

“Nothing of note,” he smiles.

The better I was playing, the more abuse I got. It was a good way to gauge your performance. If I was playing useless, no one would bother you. When you get in a groove, that’s when lads would look to get you riled up. 

“After a good few years (it eased off). After playing around since 13, the amount of people you know through football is something else. You get to know these players well.” 

Within five years of moving home he was called into the Kerry minors, but a burst appendix and their early Munster exit to Tipperary quashed that dream.

“I got the call the same day I was in hospital having my appendix out. They said, ‘Look, once you’re right,and if we get over Tipperary, you can come back in.’

“I remember being below in the rooming listening to the radio and screaming at it to get over the line. They actually lost that day. My chance at minor went that night.”

Three years later his opportunity arrived. He ended up captaining the Darragh Ó Sé-managed Kerry U21s. Breen’s team-mates included the likes of Tadhg Morley, Gavin Crowley, Adrian Spillane.

Growing up, getting to wear the green and gold is probably what anyone could ask for. Proud to say I captained an underage team in Kerry – I don’t think too many Welsh people can say that!

“I had to make the squad first and then the team. I was more worried about making the team than even thinking about captaincy. It was in the back of my mind that I’d the potential to be captain because of the way it’s structured in Kerry but that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. My first concern was getting my foot in the door first.” 

It’s put to him that it must have been an extremely proud moment for his father.

“I’d say so, but I’d say he was probably just as proud the first day when I put on the yellow and blue of Beaufort. It was definitely worth moving back in 2006. My father, like a load of people around the parish, he’d be a massive Beaufort fan.

“Even if I wasn’t playing, he loves football and where he lives. We’ve a lot of family who’ve represented the club down the years.”

A view of Croke Park ahead of today's games A view of Croke Park. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

He’ll be even prouder, the midfielder reckons, when he sees the Beaufort squad run out in Croke Park later today. 

“It will be my first time (to play here). There’s guys on the team who’ve played in Croke Park underage with Kerry minors. We’ve three guys who’ve played there before – Mike Breen, Liam Carey and Ronan Murphy. Hopefully I’ll stand to them on the day.”

Breen admits that when his mind wandered off during the past couple of weeks, the thought of lifting the All-Ireland title on the steps of the Hogan Stand is never far away.

Lying in bed and stuff or during any bit of commuting, you’d kind of drift off and (imagine it).

“It would be fantastic, not for me personally, but to be standing in the Hogan Stand lifting a cup on behalf of lads I played my whole career with, guys who’ve represented the club for years.

“Our goalkeeper, he’s been on the go for close to two decades I’d say. And he probably hasn’t missed too many games. If you were able to lift the cup for the likes of those lads, it would be fantastic to look back on in years to come.” 

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Kevin O'Brien

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