I was dreading it. I had recently missed a few training sessions because of gigs in various parts of the country, and now a late booking had just come in for this Thursday – our last session before a crunch league game in Wexford.
It was spring 2007, and Tommy Breheny was the manager of the Sligo team that year. In fairness he had been understanding up to now with the demands my new career was placing on me, but I feared this would be a bridge too far and wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.
I was reminded of this moment recently when listening to an interview with Jeff Benedict on the Second Captains podcast. Jeff has written a book about the hugely successful New England Patriots American Football team, and when asked if it was coach Bill Belichick or quarterback Tom Brady that had the biggest influence on that success, he gave an interesting answer.
He brought up a man called Robert Kraft, who has a signed picture of the Beatles hanging in pride of place between two huge windows in his Manhattan apartment. They are his favourite band, and he loves to tell people that on the night that the picture was taken (9 Feb 1964 when they announced themselves to America on the Ed Sullivan show) they actually stayed in another apartment in that very same building.
Kraft owns the New England Patriots, and realised early on that he had his very own Lennon and McCartney in Brady and Belichick. Two creative geniuses who complemented each other perfectly and together could achieve greatness. Kraft was all too aware of the many great songs on which the world missed out when the Beatles split up, and so he was determined that he would keep these two men working together for as long as possible.
Their partnership ended up lasting 20 years, bringing them to 9 Super Bowls and 6 titles, but would have broken up long before if it wasn’t for the energy and time Kraft invested into keeping his two star men on the same team.
I played for Tommy Breheny for just 1 year, and I certainly was no Tom Brady, but there are some similarities.
Because like Mr. Kraft, Tommy understood the importance of what are called the softer skills. Keeping his players happy off the pitch. Making the training environment somewhere you wanted to be. Understanding that for a small county like Sligo to achieve success, you had to get the very best out of each individual.
He didn’t bat an eyelid when I approached him that day 13 years ago, and asked me instead to put in an hour with him at lunchtime on the pitch in Kevinsfort.
And while we didn’t win the game in Wexford, we did go on to have one of the most famous summers in Sligo GAA history that year.
*Column #3 for the Sligo Weekender. Published on Sept 17th 2020.