*Colm O’Brien. Photograph: Burren Eye Photography

GROWING MATURITY and an incredibly close bond has helped St Breckan’s form a path to reach the Clare SFC for the first time in 27 years, according to defender Colm O’Brien.

Kilshanny’s Colm will line out at wing back on Sunday as they bid to become the first North Clare club since Kilfenora in 1950 to win the Clare senior football championship.

It’s a much brighter picture for Colm now considering St Breckan’s were relegated from the senior ranks in his debut season back in 2018. Bouncing back up a year later was a turning point, “It was always the challenge, getting relegated to intermediate led to a big push to try get us up which we were lucky enough to do, it was exciting getting all the way to a Munster final and having a home semi-final was very exciting, we got to the U21A final which we lost but all coincided at the same time of year, it was great”.

Exits at the semi-final stage (2020 and 2021) followed by a quarter-final loss (2022) buffered the momentum of St Breckan’s at senior level but this season they have bounced back with aplomb from their opening round one point loss to Kilmurry Ibrickane.

Pain associated with their respective exits to Cratloe, Éire Óg and Ennistymon since returning to senior has strengthened the side. “I’d say the last three years, 2020 against Cratloe was our first year back up from the intermediate, there wasn’t much expectation within the group to get as far as we did, to look back and see how close we were that day to getting to a county final that does hurt, then in 2021 the previous year would have given more confidence that we weren’t that far away, we weren’t overly lucky in terms of injuries and lost to a good Éire Óg side in the semi-final, last year hurt, I don’t know would you say it hurt the most because we lost to Ennistymon, we knew on the day that we didn’t perform to near our level and we only lost by a point at the end of the day, those three games really hurt us”.

Although it is the first time this group have reached the senior decider, the panel have not changed much in terms of preparation or application, Colm felt. “Okay we lost seven lads from our panel between injury and emigration, at the start of the year that was a big loss, we didn’t deviate from any of our main principles, we said we would give it a go, we’d all be committed and buy into it as much as we had in previous years, we were fortunate this year to get over the line in the semi-final, in years gone by we might not have had that maturity to get the business done, I wouldn’t say there was any big changes on other years, we had matured and had a bit more experience for those championship moments”.

Colm O’Brien. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Departures of first-choice players like Dale Masterson (injury) and Aiden Davidson (emigration) may have lessened the expectation from external sources on St Breckan’s. “As a group we don’t look into where the pressure is coming from, we don’t pay too much attention to it, other teams might have said with so many players gone they might not have paid as much attention to us but I don’t think that is the case either, we got as far as the Cusack Cup final this year so it is hard to come in under the radar when you progress so far in the league”.

Twenty four year old Colm believed the bond within the St Breckan’s panel was “unique”. He told The Clare Echo, “it comes with the age profile of the team as well, a couple of years ago we were called a young exciting team, I’d say we’ve lost that tag and I’m feeling it myself that I’m moving on now that I’m 24, the majority of our team is between early to mid-twenties with a few outliers that are north of thirty and below twenty. We’re all best friends, we do everything together whether it is a swim in the sea or rounds of golf, we always say we’re very lucky that if you picked names out of a hat and went off to do a random activity we’d all have the best of craic, we’re lucky, we’re just great friends, teammates has brought those friendships closer, losing together has definitely brought us together too, nobody really understands how hard the losses are other than your teammates aside from family, the lads that you are playing with know the most about you really”.

Injuries have been a source of frustration but O’Brien is now on a different path, aided by physical therapist John Earls. “I would have been one of the lads that was plagued by hamstring injuries in the last couple of years, 2021 in particular, I didn’t have as many knocks last year and I’m on the more preventative route right now, prevention is always better than cure. I’ve great time for John Earls, I’m sure all of the lads do in the dressing room, he is always in great spirits when he comes in, before training or before a match it is always ‘well bud or well dude’, he is a top man and he always gets us into great shape”.

A data analyst with KPMG, Colm acknowledged that it would not be an inaccurate assumption to label him as one of the players who pays particular attention to the various statistics from their GPS units. “My undergrad was in law so it is data analysis and financial services and banking is mainly what I work in, I wouldn’t be one to get too fixated in that, it is nice to know but I wouldn’t read into it too much, I like to play off instinct a lot so I wouldn’t be overly worried on the numbers”.

Colm O’Brien takes on Gearoid Cahill. Photograph: Burren Eye Photography

Versatility has been one of his strengths but this year his position at wing-back has been a constant, having mixed between here and wing-forward in recent years. “I’d definitely say I prefer playing wing back, I had no real fixed position for a lot of years, I started out as a corner forward growing up but in the years that have followed I’ve been moved progressively back the field, it is something I’m enjoying at the moment. We often have the craic at training, there are days that I could be in the backs union or days I’m in the forwards union”. Though he is moving backwards in terms of lines, Colm is quite content to leave Rapahel Considine, Cian Burke and Paddy Doherty as the full-back line.

Success has been rare with the club, Colm reflected, “we’d be in a lot of finals and semi-finals since U14, U16 and minor, we were always very close but we hadn’t great success underage, I won a Joe McCauw at U11 which was the highlight really! It was something we’ve said before that we really under-achieved at underage, it was nice to win something”.

Silverware has been obtained in other sports when lining out for Burren Utd, Avenue Utd and also Crusheen/Tubber. “I actually played two years for Avenue at underage too when the team was gone in Burren, I played two years there and won a double, played a bit of hurling initially with St Breckan’s and two years U21 with Crusheen/Tubber, we won a U21B final and lost a U21A final in the same year, 2019”.

Overcoming St Joseph’s Miltown after extra time in the semi-final was a level of contest that he hadn’t experienced before. “Since the semi-final it has been tough to try get the body and the head right, it was very much an emotional rollercoaster, we were up, we were down, we were clinging on and the body was aching, trying to get down off that high of winning was a challenge itself and trying to get to bed after the game was tough actually, absolute exhaustion and I’d expect no less the next day”.

“I’d say it was the most exhausted I’ve been, there has been tough games in the past but it was the mental and physical aspect to it that was really draining, coming off such a high and trying to stay focused and stick to the task”.

Swimming and golfing are the predominant options for him when it comes to switching off and his companions for such activities are his St Breckan’s teammates. “Most of my time would be spent with the lads that I play football with, it just so happens that at the moment I’m living around home and a couple of the lads are on the same boat, we spend our weekends and evenings whether it is going to SeaWorld in Lahinch or swimming at the pier or rounds of golf, a bit of pitch and putt whatever it is to switch off from football”.

O’Brien is quick to nominate himself as the panel’s best golfer, while he will back captain Conor Burke to line out in defence all day, he is not as confident of his golfing ability and labels him the panel’s worst golfer, “he won’t like that answer but he can be a bit wild off the tee”.

In victory and defeat, on the football pitch, the golf course or in the ocean, the one constant is that the St Breckan’s boys have managed to stay united, a trait that will stand to them on Sunday evening.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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