I’d never gone into a team that were moaning as much about the manager - David BreenTue, Jun 12 2018
With a penchant for playing out from the back, Waterford-born David Breen earned the nickname ‘Rio’, in reference to former Manchester United and England central defender Rio Ferdinand. However, towards the end of his on-field career, David admits to ExtraTime.ie that upholding this reputation proved beyond his ideals.
“Back then, centre-halves weren’t expected to pass out from defence. I always tried to, even though some managers discouraged it. The name stuck because I played like Ferdinand and that’s how I got it.”
Following spells with local junior outfits Bohemians and Johnville, Breen linked up with Alfie Hale at Kilkenny City in 1996. During his maiden season he was a squad member of the dominant First Division team that finished eleven points ahead of Drogheda United, but then witnessed a miserable top-tier campaign, culminating in a swift return.
“That team was made up of ex-Waterford players, except for one Carlow lad. We trained locally and that year, they were cruising. I didn’t get much of a look in. Alfie advised me to watch centre-backs from both teams and learn from what they were doing right and wrong. It was over with several games left and I got some experience then. The next year, I didn’t play many games, but the players were disappointed because it was a horrendous season, winning only one or two games.”
While also at Kilkenny, the young defender partook in the Black Cats side that defeated his hometown club in the 1999/00 play-off decider: “Paul Power was manager and encouraged me to play ball. In the play-offs, we won 1-0 up in Kilkenny. Then it was my first time playing in the RSC and a decent crowd turned up. Our backs were against the wall and I gave away a penalty, which hit the crossbar. They pushed on and we scored. There was no bad blood towards the Waterford lads playing for Kilkenny. The fans weren’t happy, but the next year, Paul got the Waterford job and I followed him because it was always something I wanted to do.”
The first of three stints with the Blues, both David and his local team went on to capture the 2002/03 First Division title: “Lots of players never won anything for any club. What made it special was going out celebrating with your fans. I couldn’t wait for the following year and go up against better players. We enjoyed the occasion, but focused immediately on the step up.”
Breen subsequently joined Cobh Ramblers, returned to Waterford and ended up at Wexford Youths in early 2009. Halfway through his second season with the Ferrycarrig Park outfit, he seemingly quit the game, only to reappear at Athlone Town a month later.
“I was disillusioned and pushing on a bit. Lots of players had left Wexford and it didn’t look good. I took a break and then got a phone call from Brendan Place, the Athlone manager. After the rest, I was ready to go again. It was only half a season, so I said: ‘Feck it … It can’t do me much harm’. There was some travelling, but he was happy with me training once a week and coming to games. During the first game in Limerick, I drove and other players had as well and were bitching about Brendan. It looked like he had lost the dressing room. I’d never gone into a team that were moaning as much about the manager. I got my head down, trained and played for Brendan.”
Three months later, the Waterford native left the midlands, seeing out the remainder of his career at the RSC. David retired at the end of 2013, but the previous year contributed to four league defeats of Limerick, who clinched the First Division four points ahead of the Blues.
“Paul O’Brien was manager and his philosophy was total football. I was in my thirties and not so comfortable playing out from the back all the time. Even from pre-season, it wasn’t working for me and other players also weren’t at ease. After Wexford thrashed us, the crowd were savage and we had a meeting on the Monday. We decided to stop playing out from the back and go 4-1-4-1. We won 1-0 against Limerick and it set us up for the rest of the season. We didn’t quite make it, but would have been nowhere near if we had said nothing. We were unlucky not to beat Dundalk in the play-offs ... They’re always nasty because you put in so much work during the year, only to be done over a couple of games.”
Playing predominately as a defender, Breen still scored a healthy quota of goals throughout his League of Ireland career: “I’m happy with the goal ratio. I remember I was on a hat-trick at Waterford. We were winning 4-0 and got a penalty. Vinny Sullivan and I had two goals apiece. I walked up to take the ball because not many defenders get a hat-trick. The crowd were screaming for me to take it, but by the time I got up, Vinny was nearly after taking it … Typical, he blew it over the bar. I never forgave him for that. Some goals came off the back of my head, some off my arse … I scored my share of own goals, as well. I always fancied myself to go up and attack the ball … Timing it well, you’ve got every chance.”
Overall though it would seem that David is more than happy with his accomplishments throughout his lengthy playing career. “I had a great career. I’ve won a lot, but have some regrets also. Europe and a cup win are two I missed out on, but I can’t complain. Unfortunately, full-time football wasn’t around for the majority of my time and I also would’ve loved to have given that a go. In around 443 league appearances, I always looked to be the fittest and the first name on the team sheet.”