By David Hennessy
Last week Niall Breslin, former lead singer of The Blizzards and currently a coach on The Voice of Ireland, announced his plans to transfer to Neasden Gaels. Bressie, singer of Fantasy, togging out will add another touch of glamour to the local scene that has this year seen Niamh Fahey, Republic of Ireland and Arsenal defender, instrumental in Parnell’s Ladies’ All-Ireland success and Shane Long, of Republic of Ireland and West Brom, often making the trip to Ruislip to watch the Fulham Irish side that included his brother steam towards intermediate county success.
Of course, London GAA has a proud history with Liam McCarthy, Sam Maguire and Michael Collins involved with its early days. In more recent years, some of our home grown talent has proved worthy of All-Ireland winning teams such as Andy Comerford, the London born captain of Kilkenny’s Liam McCarthy winning side of 2002 and Darran O’Sullivan, the London born captain of Kerry when they lifted Sam Maguire in 2009.
Inspired by Bressie’s announcement, we take a look at some of the more surprising and interesting characters that have graced British GAA clubs. They include Hollywood stars, well known TV presenters, multi-million selling musicians. Tell us if you are surprised by any of the below. Perhaps you know someone we should have included. In which case send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org because we are sure there are notable GAA players not mentioned below.
Although he is known for his musical achievements with The Blizzards and his subsequent solo career, Niall Breslin was an accomplished sportsman before he went down the musical road.
Breslin represented Westmeath at minor, under-21 and senior levels and won a Leinster Under 21 Championship in 2000. He was also a strong rugby player and went to UCD to study economics with a rugby scholarship. When he graduated, he was picked up by Leinster and played fourteen times for the province alongside Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy. He toured Australia in the World Cup with the Ireland U-21's but was plagued by injuries and decided to give it up. He said it broke his dad's heart but it was the best move for him: "With every game you go out to play, you have this pressure — what if I get injured tonight? So how can you play properly with that? And then when I was injured I became like a second-class citizen. I thought: 'F**k this, I've got something more in life that I'm good at’.”
And the music scene was the sport world’s game with Bressie pouring all his energies into his songwriting.
Every football dressing room has a joker but not many have one that goes on to have Hollywood rolling in the aisles. Now a global household name, Chris O’Dowd togged out for Garryowen in London while working towards his big break in television.
Now the star of Bridesmaids, The Sapphires and Moone Boy, O’Dowd played for Roscommon in the 1996 minor Connacht final and has never forgotten his GAA roots: “I loved that Connacht final day," he told The Roscommon Herald during Moone Boy’s filming. "More than anything, I remember that I had my appendix out ten days before the final. I played a couple of games the year before at midfield, and I think it speaks a lot of my interest draining from the GAA at the time that the next year I was 'keeper. I was a bad trainer; I think my mind was in other places at the time. But I did really enjoy it. I loved the camaraderie of it."
And the Garryowen team of 1998 enjoyed his joking although unfortunately Chris couldn’t turn out as often as he would have liked for fear of a black eye or any other bump interfering with his filming.
When talking about his GAA heroes to The Sunday Game, Chris said of The Rossies’ cavalier 1990s goalkeeper, Shane Curran: “He comes from that great dramatic tradition of out of your box crazy goalkeepers and he could save a penalty and score a 45 and at the same time, he would be just as happy to ride a bull into a church, and he could do all those things in the space of two hours.” Chris O’Dowd was a goalkeeper himself in Roscommon’s minor team while Curran minded the senior net: “I would take advice from him like I would take advice from a drunk clown, ya know. He was a law unto himself.”
Like Calum Best, Patrick Kielty took the job seriously when he became Tir Chonaill Gaels’ Celebrity Bainisteoir in 2008. “I was asked to do this by a friend of mine who rang me up and said: 'you used to play a bit of GAA, you're living in London, fancy getting involved in this,” the comedian said at the time. “I was assured I'd be a GAA god after this so I said no problem! I played a bit when I was younger. I was actually a sub on the Down minor team that won the All-Ireland in 1987. I haven't done anything in years though.”
“There was a bit of a buzz around the club when Patrick came, TCG secretary Steve McLoughlin remembers. “It was great to see a man come in who knew a bit about the GAA, he had played it himself so he knew what was involved and he really did enjoy his time down there and he had some great ideas. He was one of the guys really, he’d join in with the craic and he was great banter. It was hilarious at times, it really was. But he was so serious, he wanted to win that cup and he got his message across to the players. It was a great time for Tir Chonaill Gaels and Paddy had a great input.”
And Kielty’s involvement with TCG did not end when the cameras stopped rolling as he has returned to lend his support to events such as last year’s Vintage Rally: “He always keeps an interest, he has helped us out with a couple of charity events One or two people still stay in touch with him.
For the full feature – including details of Tinie Tempah's days playing GAA football – pick up the Christmas (22-29 December) Irish World