On this third anniversary of his untimely death, Cliftonville Football Club pays tribute to Tommy Breslin.
Though he is quite rightly lauded for the glorious reign he oversaw as Manager, Tommy is also remembered for a string of dazzling performances he delivered as a fleet-footed midfielder in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
He was, unfortunately, unable to help the team claim the trophies and recognition his talents merited, but there would be no stopping his Cliftonville side of the mid-2010s from realising their potential during an unforgettable tenure.
Tommy made the first of 288 Reds appearances in a Gold Cup clash with Crusaders on October 12, 1985 and ended his playing days at the Club when Cliftonville faced Ballymena United on April 24, 1993.
The first of his 16 goals came when he bagged a brace against Newry Town on St Patrick’s Day, 1986, while a League Cup encounter with Queen’s University on January 27, 1993 saw him find the net for the final time.
After returning to Solitude in a coaching capacity, Breslin was appointed Assistant Manager to Eddie Patterson before assuming the reins himself – initially on a temporary basis – in April 2011.
His permanent appointment would herald the most successful era in the history of Ireland’s Oldest Football Club, with the November 2011 victory over Glentoran in the County Antrim Shield Final delivering the first silverware of his tenancy.
The following summer saw Cliftonville secure their first ever European win at Solitude when Kalmar were beaten 1-0 in the Europa League and, though the Swedes would claim aggregate success when the teams renewed rivalries a week later, the signs were already in place that a season to remember could be on the cards.
Fast forward two years and, with the Premiership title and League Cup having both been claimed and successfully defended during a period that yielded never-to-be-forgotten Champions League nights against Celtic as well as close-fought continental encounters with Debrecen, Breslin’s third full season at the helm also delivered further Shield success and yet another League Cup honour, along with the somewhat less vaunted Charity Shield.
Though his legendary contribution to Cliftonville FC is cemented in iconic status, the measure of the man could never be quantified simply by a trophy count. On and off the pitch, in and outside of football, Tommy – who returned to the Solitude dugout in a brief interim capacity for the final two games of the 2016/17 season – remains revered and respected for his gentle demeanour, kindness, quick wit and a warmth of character that endeared him to so many.
As his former Chairman and close friend Gerard Lawlor commented following his sad loss: “Our Club has lost one of its greatest sons – if not the greatest. He is a legend in the highest definition of the word. Tommy Breslin may be gone but he’ll never be forgotten by anyone at Cliftonville. He changed people’s lives, he made men believe and he delivered people’s dreams.”
The Breslin family circle and Tommy’s many friends remain in our thoughts on this poignant and difficult date but, amid our grief and sadness, we remain appreciative for the privilege of having known the man and for having been lucky enough to be his Football Club.
He turned Cliftonville dreams into reality and led his Club to unprecedented heights, leaving an astonishing legacy that, in hand with the most affable and engaging of personalities, guarantees his legendary status in perpetuity.
You were the greatest, Tommy. Rest in peace.