The Advanced Mark-Part 1 Mark Breheny

Back 22/01/2021 @ 11:40 | mainnews | The Advanced Mark-Part 1 Mark Breheny
By Anna Bradley
Sligo GAA Youth PR Committee
For some people it is one of the dreaded ‘F’ words in life.
Mark Breheny is about to face it, turning forty soon. However, the Sligo footballing veteran does not at all appear fazed by this.
He was, however a little more concerned about the interview.
“You might fill me in […] on what the idea was behind the chat again.” The memory is probably fading—with him turning forty.
The purpose of the interview is this, Mark; a public announcement of your turning the wrong side of thirty-nine. Or maybe think of it more as a celebration.
One ‘F’ that the Sligo man is interested in, though, was introduced at the very beginning of the conversation: Fatherhood. Happily chatting away, his little three-year-old lady was ready to join the conversation, asking some questions herself.
If she is anything like the Breheny side of the family, with a father, uncles and cousins representing their county in senior football, it is probably best to start practicing early for sporting interviews.
With a seven-year-old son too, Mark is obviously kept on his toes despite having retired from county. A secondary school teacher by profession, Mark only half-jokingly admitted “it is easier to be in school, I think. Minding twenty teenagers than a little three-year-old, but good craic.”
Once everyone was settled, it was time to talk about the next major ‘F’ in Mark’s life: Football. Having served seventeen seasons for Sligo and being retired from the intercounty scene for the last three years, Mark described his footballing county career as: “It was long and it was a lot of ups and downs, but no, really enjoyed it.” So how does he fill his time since retiring from county football?
“I’m busy with things happening at home and kind of club football.”
Since intercounty retirement, Mark has continued, and still continues, to play a pivotal role for his club, while he also admits to taking in some local soccer games, and “trying a bit of tennis ... recently enough,” with his son. Mark admitted: “The football probably totally engrossed me over the years.” It might still. The St. Mary’s clubman has recently joined the Sligo football management team as a selector.
As he waits for that to get going, Mark has turned to other things to fill whatever downtime the kids and work allow him. “Reading and running really would be the main two. Going out for walks at the moment as well. Sligo is a great place for scenic walks. Whether it’s mountain or beach range. So, it’s kinda things like that would keep me busy in fairness.”
Good with kids, likes running, reading, and long walks on the beach. This is sounding like a template for a dating profile.
But his new role in county management shows that his body and brain still think football. He seems to take positions based on his interest in the sport.
“You don’t know really know what you want to be as you’re going through the school years. I used to look at my other teachers who used to bring us away to matches and I thought: ‘you know what, I might fancy a bit of that’, because you’re going away to the matches and you’re coaching teams. You still have the sport element as part of your job.”
It is evident that Mark likes his job, not just because of football. He has “the enjoyment of coaching kids and seeing them develop. Even from the classroom environment to see teenagers from 13 years of age, developing into young men.”
In both coaching and teaching capacities, nearly forty years of learning on and off the pitch is something this Sligo man obviously wants to share. “The advice you would have got over the years, like, I carry all of that forward now. Even my job as a teacher, now as a selector with Sligo, you’re bringing any positive stuff that you would have learned. They’re the kind of learning truths that you bring forward in life.” What better place to share his knowledge than the school where he learnt some of it himself, the famed Summerhill College.
However, teaching the kids maths and business studies is only part of the enjoyment. “With the football element, you can coach the lads and get away for matches and try to develop them that way as well, so. Maybe my interest in Gaelic football nearly prompted me a little bit to go to the classroom.” A little? It sounds as though the football is the job and teaching is a perk.
But school is not all fun and games. There are some rough days too. Like when you forget your homework, have to do a class presentation, or when you lost a county match the day before. “Some Monday mornings, pupils would be slagging you about the defeat and sometimes when we won, they wouldn’t know about it. But once we lost, they were telling you all about it, so that was a bit of fun as well, you know.”
Another ‘F’ Mr Breheny holds as important: Fun. “That bit of banter is always good as well in the classroom.” Teachers and coaches, take note.
“The students would be asking me other questions, like tips on nutrition and strength and conditioning, what are you doing at the moment and maybe psychological stuff that I learnt from Sligo that could help lads.
“There have been teacher versus student matches actually, one or two years as well and that was good craic.”
As always, teachers led by example, doing their best to win. But if they lost, teachers should take it graciously. Apparently, no one told the Summerhill men that. “If we didn’t win it we’d still pretend we won it, we always had a good referee to look after us.” It would seem maths is not his strong point when on the wrong side of victory.
For Mark, being a GAA player helped “the engagement level” of his students. “They could relate to me as in an athlete, not just a teacher, or not just a ‘Mr. Breheny’ or ‘sir’. They could see that I had another life outside teaching and sometimes I think kids think that teachers just only have the life in the classroom and that’s all they are.” As a local player who represented his county, students “felt comfortable talking to me about football and talking about the matches coming up”.
What happens then when the student and master face off in club match? “The respect was there in fairness and they don’t really mind playing with their teacher.” Mark commented that he has “good relations built up with these guys so there were never really any issues from that point of view.” There are no friends on the pitch and certainly no titles like ‘sir’. One would imagine that students might just go that bit harder against their teachers. Though, a seventeen-year-old would probably regret hitting Mark a shoulder. Or bouncing off his shoulder, as the case may be.
Just like football, teaching is changing. As evidenced from Mark saying that he likes a bit of banter in the classroom. “I think change is good and you just have to adapt to it and move on […] you’re hoping that it’ll benefit the kids more than anything else, you know.”
Throughout the entire conversation, one thing that was clear is how much Mark enjoys everything that he does and always wants to use his own knowledge to benefit others. Listening to him, it is apparent that he enjoys helping young people develop themselves. This attitude, mixed with his laughter at his memories of students, speaks to the type of teacher he is.
However, Mark was not always a teacher. He previously worked at his brother’s auctioneer office. “That was busy at the time of the boom years and I enjoyed that, and again I’m glad I did that because it was something different.”
Mark has also completed a postgrad in special education needs teaching and puts this to use sometimes after school.
While apparently inspiring young people in work and sport, Mark still remembers exactly who influenced him growing up. “From a playing point of view, my dad, obviously [and] my older brother, Tommy.” As a player, “there was a local coach of mine and he played for Sligo, John Kent. I heard great stories from him and about him. He was someone I would have admired and always looked for advice off.”
“From a national level...Maurice Fitzgerald.” Mark’s mother hailed from The Kingdom, which might explain the attraction to the Kerry legend.
The St. Mary’ man also found it hard to think of any embarrassing moments in his football career; at least any he would share. “I just can’t put my finger on anything really. Let me see. None that I can tell you anyway.” It was left at that. Some stories are better not told. Like the one about him being a Manchester United fan.
That is an ‘F’ for Flaw.
While considering the upcoming major F (turning forty), it is the other, positive Fs that dominate Mark Breheny’s story—Family, Football and Faith in the next generation - “I think the Future is still bright for Sligo football.” To see this achieved, Mark is building the Foundations through teaching, coaching, and taking time to play with his kids.
Fair play!