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Wednesday 28 September 2016

Song for Saipan stirs old memories

Ireland legend Gary Breen was on hand to launch the Spar Team of Gary Breens campaign which sees Spar, the official convenience retail partner of the FAI, giving Irish soccer fans the opportunity to be part of a Team of Gary Breens that supports the boys in green this summer. To be in with a chance to win simply pick up a Gary Breen mask from any Spar store, take a selfie and upload it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #TeamBreen… then wait for the call up! For further information visit www.spar.ie Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland legend Gary Breen was on hand to launch the Spar Team of Gary Breens campaign which sees Spar, the official convenience retail partner of the FAI, giving Irish soccer fans the opportunity to be part of a Team of Gary Breens that supports the boys in green this summer. To be in with a chance to win simply pick up a Gary Breen mask from any Spar store, take a selfie and upload it to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #TeamBreen… then wait for the call up! For further information visit www.spar.ie Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's Gary Breen action against Spain's Ivan Helguera during the 2002 World Cup second round clash in Suwon, South Korea Photo: Sportsfile

Gary Breen will be in your face between now and the Euro 2016 finals. A lot of Gary Breens. A team of them.

Someone smart in an advertising agency sold the idea to Spar to build a campaign around the song which carried us through Japan and Korea.

The song was adopted by Irish fans during the World Cup 2002 finals as a response, it seemed, to the fact that Ireland's best player was walking his dog in Manchester when the team lined up for the anthems before the opener against the Cameroon in Niigata.

Who needs Roy Keane when we've a team of Gary Breens?

Bloopers

It was Irish football fatalism at it's brilliant best. With a reputation for committing occasional bloopers, Breen was viewed by many fans through gaps between their fingers.

But he could play and never better than he did in those three weeks.

"Every time I've been to Ireland or see Ireland fans I just see them singing it all over the place. The reality is you wouldn't win many games if you had a team of Gary Breens," he said laughing.

"It's lovely in term but I'm pretty sure it's about the experience and adventures that people have had supporting the team. It's good fun."

So, some housekeeping. Saipan. What happened? Breen has said nothing much so far on the subject.

"It was a difficult one in terms of the whole scenario. Even now I look back on it and the lads coming out with their books. Sometimes I read the stories and wonder if I was actually there in terms of the versions."

"People ask me but I just say 'you had to be there'. I don't really go into it. It was a real shame because Roy is the best player I ever played with for Ireland.

Breen is fiercely protective of his Irishness, almost to the point where you feel a bit inadequate beside his passion.

"You grow up dreaming of playing for Ireland, you literally do. I'm very vocal about it, even now. I've got a London accent, of course, but I'm mindful that when you play for your country it elevates you to a different level and you have to protect that," he said.

"When we're seeing people declaring for other countries, rugby whatever, you're losing that. Club football gives you the opportunity to do what you want but it's unique, international football. You have to keep that passion that's just engrained in you in terms of playing for your country.

No surprise that Breen has a particular take on the Jack Grealish saga.

"If you declare for someone and play at Under-21 level you've made your mind up. Everyone says they are young and impressionable, but I would argue that that's the time you make the purest decision," he says.

"You know who you are at 16, before agents and club hierarchies get to you. You know what you are. It's not a career choice for me."

Breen is deeply envious of the road in front of the current Ireland squad, the one Grealish spurned.

"I hope they give a good account of themselves. I look at them and you can tell the togetherness they've got. It's very apparent in terms of how they turned around the campaign. At times they were up against it and did brilliantly," he said.

"I hope that it goes well for them because I look back at the lads who qualified for the last one and the dream wasn't to pan out the way it did for them."

Sorry

"I felt sorry for them because I'm sure they would've been like me growing up thinking about playing at a major tournament and the dream is certainly not for it to go the way it went for them.

"I would say to those lads who haven't been to a tournament, it is so special. They won't realise. They will have heard everyone saying about it but they won't realise until they actually get there.

"I look back and when we walked out onto the pitch to look around in your tracksuit prior to the kick-off, I remember walking out to a sea of green and you just suddenly get really emotional.

"I'm not really a particularly emotional guy but it really was that day and they've got it all to look forward to that day and I'm very envious of it," he said and he means it.

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