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Welsh-Born Kerryman Overcame Abuse To Captain Kingdom U21s And Lead Club To Croker

Welsh-Born Kerryman Overcame Abuse To Captain Kingdom U21s And Lead Club To Croker

"Proud to say I captained an underage team in Kerry - I don't think too many Welsh people can say that!" tells Nathan Breen. No doubt he's right. North Wales, not a Gaelic football stronghold and all that.

A football stronghold can be found 300 miles away in Beaufort, a village just off the road between Killorglin and Killarney where Breen moved when he was 13. On Saturday, nearly 13 years after he and his family upped sticks and crossed the Irish sea, Breen captains Beaufort - home to Kerry legends Brendan and Paudie Lynch - in the AIB All-Ireland Junior Club Football Championship final at Croke Park against Sligo and Connacht champions Easkey.

Breen's father hails from the village and his mother from Flint, the hometown of Liverpool and Wales legend Ian Rush.

"We were always asking our parents when we were moving and when they did tell us, it was the summer before we moved," says Breen.

"Our holiday was over and we were heading for the ferry. They pulled into the graveyard in Beaufort and my mother turned to my father and said, 'Do you want to tell them?' He said, 'Oh, we're moving to Ireland.'

"He heard that the Irish economy was good around that time. We came over in the summer of 2006 and it wasn't too long after that when the whole thing went on its head. You can't really foresee those things.

"Me and my sister started balling crying with the shock. 'How am I going to leave my friends?' and stuff. Once the initial shock was over, it was an exciting time."

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Ultimately, playing football made the transition easier but it was not without bumps. He'd kicked ball with his father in a park near their home in Wales and in the summer holidays with his cousins. He'd also seen Kerry play in All-Ireland finals on TV - a complete GAA novice he was not.

His distinctive accent did make him stand out. Verbal abuse from opposition teams came his way not long after stepping off the ferry.

The amount of grief I got starting out for a long portion of underage was tough stuff.

If I had a euro for every time I was called a 'fucking Black and Tan' or an 'English cunt' - I had to listen to that for a good few years. It didn't bother me. I didn't give it much thought at the time. When you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times.

The better I was playing, the more abuse I got. It was a good way to gauge your performance. If I was playing useless, no one would bother you. When you get in a groove, that's when lads would look to get you riled up.

The 25-year-old believes that withstanding that abuse made him mentally stronger. "That was one big benefit," says Breen.

"I had my own approach to the game. There's enough to be thinking about other than insults or anything like that. I'm not really affected by anyone having a go at me on the field.

"Once you fall into those kind of set-ups, you're a part of the team. Your teammates have your back. If anything, it jelled me quicker into the team. Since my first training session, I've always go tremendous support from teammates."

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The kid who was born in Wales would pull on the Kerry jersey. He was brought into the Kerry South U16 development squad but didn't make the panel - number 25 in a 24-man group.

"I got called into the Kerry minors at my last year of minor. I got the call the same day I was in hospital having my appendix out. They said, 'Look, once you're right, and if we get over Tipperary, you can come back in.'

"I remember being below in the room listening to the radio and screaming at it to get over the line. They actually lost that day. My chance at minor went that night."

His chance eventually came in his final year at U21 level in 2014 under Darragh Ó Sé. Their campaign lasted just one game of the Munster Championship, one they lost to Cork in Tralee by four points but from his station at corner-back, Breen captained the Kingdom. That was a Kerry side which featured current senior squad members Tadhg Morley, Gavin Crowley, Shane Murphy and Adrian Spillane.

"I'd say he [my father] was probably just as proud the first day when I put on the yellow and blue of Beaufort," says Breen.

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Saturday will be the Beaufort captain's first time to play at Croke Park. Though, their panel is not without matchday experience of the ground: Mike Breen, Liam Carey and Ronan Murphy all played there at minor level.

Lying in bed, or while commuting, Breen has allowed himself to dream about a victorious day.

"It would be fantastic, not for me personally, but to be standing in the Hogan Stand lifting a cup on behalf of lads I played my whole career with, guys who've represented the club for years.

"Our goalkeeper, he's been on the go for close to two decades I'd say. And he probably hasn't missed too many games. If you were able to lift the cup for the likes of those lads, it would be fantastic to look back on in years to come."

Above: Nathan Breen of Beaufort, right, is pictured alongside Noel McGuire of Easkey ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Junior Football Club Championship Final taking place at Croke Park on Saturday, February 9th. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Croke Park, Dublin. Photos by Sportsfile

See Also: Dropped 2018 Kerry Captain 'Not Looking In Wing Mirror' Over Kingdom Career

PJ Browne
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