Mark Breheny, the longest-serving Gaelic football player in the GAA, has announced his retirement from inter-county football.
The Sligo team veteran tweeted his decision on the 14th January after 17-years service in the game. Before Breheny’s 17-year stint came to an end, Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin who retired in 2016 had been the games longest serving player.
Breheny’s announcement came as something of a surprise, as in a recent meeting with Sligo team manager Cathal Corey, he had indicated that he was ready to commit to one more season with the club.
As it transpired, however, the last game he played in, which was back in July last year when Sligo were beaten by Meath in a cup qualifier, was to be the last game he would ever play for the side. It was fitting in way because this final game was played out at the scene of his first.
The love affair with team Sligo
Looking back over his career, which unusually in today’s game he spent entirely with team Sligo, Breheny said what a privilege it had been to represent the club at all levels. He reminisced that he had enjoyed many highs and suffered some lows too, and that overall, he would treasure forever the camaraderie he had shared with both the team and the club as a whole.
Breheny’s 17-year career in the GAA, playing senior inter-county football, was all thanks to his underage coaching at former club St Marys. He recounts how they inspired home and laid the ground for him to fall in love with what he described as a wonderful game. He also gave thanks to the County Board, the Sligo fans, and the management teams he has worked with over the past 17-years.
If you were to compare Breheny’s record of years spent playing in the GAA against the record holder in the English Premier League (EPL), the closest contender in the EPL is Julian Speroni, the goalkeeper for Crystal Palace. He has played in the EPL for just over 15.5 years, but not just for Palace, making the Irishman’s record quite an achievement.
In terms of world sport, one of the longest-serving players is Tana Umaga, the New Zealand All Black three-quarter, with a record that spans 21 years. Although this beats Breheny’s record regarding the total number of years in a sport, Umaga’s record was split across several clubs. An article in the New Zealand Herald on the topic of the top 10 longest serving players in world sport makes for some fascinating reading.
Highlights in the Breheny career
When Breheny first played for Sligo in the year 2007, his brother Tommy was the manager. That year he led the team to provincial success with a single point win over Galway. Looking back over his career, one of its highlights was when the 36-year old retiree won a Connacht senior championship medal back in 2007. He captained the county team and was instrumental in helping them to end a 32-year wait to lift the Connacht trophy.
Another highlight in the Breheny career was 16-years ago when he was a member of the Sligo team that travelled to JFK airport. The occasion was New York’s integration into the Connacht championships. Two years ago he made the same trip with his nephew, Cian.
Thanks to wife Caroline
In his thanks to all of those who supported him throughout his career, Breheny singled out his wife Caroline who he says didn’t know anything about Gaelic football when they first met. He was 19, and she was a mere 17. He gives her full credit, saying that there is no way he would have gone the full 17-years without her backing.
The only regret
Today, Breheny’s only regret is that he would have liked to have become the only Sligo player to have ever won two Connacht championship medals