August 27, 1993
A Lifetime of service to Derry G.A.A.
The razzmatazz, the pre-match waffle and publicity that consistently accompanies the latter stages of Championship fare continues to swamp the eye and ear of fanatical and apathetic sports fans alike throughout the country.
It's high season for the media machine. Having gradually cranked itself into top gear over the summer months, the men on the ditch with pen and mike in hand are out to make hay while gaelic games' best crop shine. The interaction between the parties involved in the provincial and All-Ireland Championship mix continues unabated. Meanwhile for the uninitiated and ice cold commentators with one eye on ongoing proceeding at Headquarters, anything other than a rip-roaring tussle between Dublin and Derry Seniors this Sunday will be a major disappointment.
From a purely objective point of view (if such were possible) next final has all the makings of a cracker. Then again so too did the Leinster Football final this year but it turned out to be the mother of all anti-climaxes and few but the most partisan of Metropolitan fans could have been pleased with the quality of fare served up. Nevertheless among all the forecasts, injury scares and resurrection of tales from yore, the hype is all enveloping.
It should be remembered though that the accompanying hype is not a new phenomenon, just revamped with a heavy coating of gloss by a technological media machine. Former stars from the past like Derry's 1958 All-Ireland hero Patsy Breen would remind one of the way it used to be.
"The talk before big matches these days isn't a lot different from what it was in my day. In fact, I felt that there was a greater sense of hype back in 1958 when we won our first Ulster Championship title. We had been knocking on the door for a few years and expectations grew and developed within the county and before we realised it, we were in the All-Ireland final", Patsy recalled.
Knocking on the door with such consistency that it had to give way sooner or later, Derry's achievement in getting to the 1958 All-Ireland decider in many ways paved the way for a new confidence among teams from the six northern counties especially teams which had previously looked solely to Cavan as Ulster's great white hope in the All-Ireland series. Hence Down's emergence as Sam Maguire captors in 1960
Still, Patsy Breen, he of Desertmartin upbringing, believes that every team must serve it's apprenticeship for them to be worthy champions. As right half back on the Derry team of the fifties, he learned all about biting the tongue, counting one hundred and stealing one's resolve in search of better times. He was on the Oak Leaf county team which lost to Cavan in the 1955 Ulster Senior final by 0-8 to 0-11 and two years later experienced disappointment on the double when losing out to Tyrone on a 0-10 to 1-9 scoreline.
Born and reared in the heartland of gaelic games territory in south Derry Desertmartin's Breen couldn't be begrudged his 1958 Ulster Senior medal. Few players deserved them more after practically being starved of his due deserts either side of that 1-11 to 2-4 provincial victory over Down.
In a team sport like gaelic football, you're only as successful as the team you're with and in Patsy's case his own club Desertmartin just didn't have the resources when he was an underage player to leave him smothered in silverware. His father Owen was a true blue Desertmartin G.A.A. stalwart as was his uncle James and native games, the young Breen played for the love of it and little else.
An automatic Derry Minor, he was a custom build mobile midfielder initially. Light, quick off the mark and blessed with two good feet, Saint Pat's College, Armagh were glad to invite Magherafelt's near-neighbour down south. It was a good time to be part of the Saint Pat's football playing hierarchy. In 1946 the Armagh boarding school won the All-Ireland Colleges Hogan Cup football competition. The Pat's team included Tyrone wizard Iggy Jones, not a bad act to follow and in the company of would-be Louth All-Ireland 1957 star Kevin Behan (he of the famous drop-kick) Patsy did his best to help St. Pat's clinch a second Hogan Cup but with not success.
Playing without any tangible reward at club underage level was the order of the day too for Patsy Breen. But the sheer enjoyment and comraderie experienced by him at the Father Shields (team manger of the 1965 winning Derry Minor team) organised Carnival at underage football games in Omagh was just what the doctor ordered for the success starved starlet.
On to Saint Mary's College and later Queen's University, linking up with the likes of Down's Kevin Mussen. But defeat to UCC in a Sigerson Cup final toughened him up and steeled his resolve even further. Further representative honours were just around the corner if not medals. However, ironically as a corner forward debutant with Derry Seniors in Lagan Cup tie in 1950, his wing half forward colleague was Newbridge's Roddy Gribben, the same Gribben that would call the shots as a team manager of the county Senior squad in '58.
Part of the Desertmartin team which lost out in successive Derry county Senior finals in 1951 and '52, it was third time lucky for all concerned on the domestic front when, as favourites, Patsy and partners demolished the challenge of a Sean O'Connell backboned Ballerin side in the 1953 county decider. On that Desertmartin team were such well known stalwarts as Joe Gormley (father of current Senior Enda). Father Emmet Fullen and Kevin Fullen. "The club were very well organised, had many talented players at the time and a great secretary in Kevin Fullen. We were hot favourites to beat Ballerin but the sense of elation at the victory was not diminished by it", acknowledged the Henry Downey-type operator. The lean machine of his time and just as determined too.
Snitchy Ferguson's shadow in the Derry Dublin '58 All-Ireland final, Patsy understandably lists that decider as the highlight of his career. At one stage though he honestly believed that the high could have been even higher. "Even though we lost to Dublin, it was very special to play in an All-Ireland final. For Dublin it was probably their last chance to win an All-Ireland and they played like that. I still thought we were going to win after we drew level in the second half, but I suppose the euphoria of it all and the loss of a bit of concentration let us down in the end".
Long-time Principal of Moneymore National School Patsy played at a time when the emphasis was very much on making the ball do the work rather than working the ball forward as Donegal and lately Derry have been seen to do. "I admire the players that are around at the moment. They're very fit and fast but I'd like to see a good mix of the old style policy of winning the ball, looking up and finding your man with the modern style of over lapping and passing the ball back and forth".
Chairman of Derry County Board from 1972 'till '75 when the Senior team sensationally opted our of the penultimate National League tie when a final place beckoned. The view of that '75 controversial episode has changed from where Pats now stands. "In hindsight, it might have been better for us to have played in the replay of the semi-final. I suppose at the time I felt too much of an empathy with the players. I was probably too green at the time and not enough of a politician."
Looking ahead to Sunday's Derry-Dublin head to head, Patsy says he's very hopeful that his home county can make this year's decider, especially he adds, if the Red and Whites managed to combine as well on the field of play as they did against Down in this year's Ulster Championship. "I hope the team adopt the same style of play that they'd been using prior to the Ulster final. I think they have to get the ball as quickly as possible into the forwards especially against a team like Dublin."
A key figure on successive Derry Senior teams from 1950-'60. Patsy rates Jim McKeever as, arguably, the best player he ever played with. The job big McKeever did for Derry in the past, Patsy hopes that Swatragh's Anthony Tohill can perform a similar function this year and the years ahead. "Every team needs a special player in their ranks, someone who can inspire the rest of them. Jim McKeever and Anthony Tohill are like each other that way, influential and inspirational and playing in positions where you can turn a match."
Hoping that the match won't be dominated by too many crunching; physical exchanges, Patsy firmly believes that the Oak Leaf County "will take some beating and are by no means a one man band." Despite acknowledging that Dublin will likely enter Sunday's contest with the psychological advantage of playing at 'home', the former star reckons that his favourites will be going down the wrong road if they try to repeat their short passing game at Croke Park. According to Patsy, Derry have the potential to scoop gaelic football's greatest prize on foot of their well proven football format. "I'm certain Derry have the skill and power to go the whole way. They possess more of it than we did."
Coach to four Ardboe County Championship winning sides, including a three in a row (1971-'73), Patsy Breen's recommendation could well be worth a wee trip to the local Turf Accountant!
Written by Hogan Stand Magazine
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