Gary Breen on Inter Milan's interest, scoring against Saudi Arabia and 2002 regrets

Former Ireland defender speaks to Newstalk Sport

Gary Breen, Ireland

Gary Breen celebrates his goal in 2002 ©INPHO/Tom Honan

"We all dream of a team of Gary Breens , a team of Gary Breens , a team of Gary Breens
number 1 is Gary Breen..."

Back in the summer of 2002, Inter Milan didn't quite want a team of Gary Breens, but they definitely wanted the main man himself.

It was a glorious summer for the then-Coventry City defender, as he formed the bedrock of a Boys in Green back-four which was unfortunate to get knocked out of the 2002 World Cup on penalties at the hands of Spain.

But that tournament also featured one of his great highlights, as he showed a deft touch in the opposition box to score Ireland's second goal in a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia - our most comprehensive win at a major tournament to date.

Inter were sniffing around at the time - as allegedly were Barcelona - although a move ultimately did not materialise as he ended up securing a transfer to West Ham instead.

The current crop of Ireland players will try to replicate those heroics (and maybe that transfer speculation) at Euro 2016, so a s part of Spar's Team of Gary Breens campaign, we caught up with Gary to talk about how close he came to joining the Serie A giants, his memories of that great goal and what lies ahead for Ireland this summer.

How did you first become aware of Inter Milan's interest and what was your initial reaction when you became aware of it?

I was first aware of it after the Germany game. It was agreed with my representatives prior to the tournament that we would not discuss any matters as my priority and focus was solely on the World Cup.


Were there any Italian defenders from that era that you admired greatly?

Franco Baresi of that iconic AC Milan defence of the mid-eighties and Beppe Bergomi of Inter.


Do you have a sense of regret that the move never happened?

Yes of course.

Michael Owen of Liverpool takes on Gary Breen of Coventry in 1999 ©INPHO/Allsport

Do you remember the first time you heard the Team of Gary Breen chant?

It was already popular at Coventry for a couple of seasons leading into that World Cup.


What were your favourite World Cup and Euros memories before you got to play for Ireland?

Ray Houghton's goal against England and the deflected goal by Holland that knocked us out with only eight minutes to go in '88. David O'Leary penalty against Romania in World Cup 1990. Schillaci's goal and also Ray's goal against Italy in '94. But mainly the Paul McGrath performance.


Recently your old team-mate Jason McAteer said players should try to play as normal at club level in the months before a major tournament rather than worry about picking up an injury or not. But is it easy for players to put injury worries out of mind when a once in a lifetime opportunity like a European Championship is coming up?

It isn't easy to put a major championship to the back of your mind when you are playing club football.


You had an excellent World Cup in 2002. But beforehand was there more a sense of nervousness or excitement and how did you unwind in the build-up and between games?

There was massive excitement because of your childhood dreams. The nerves come from the responsibility of not wanting to let anyone down. Managing the time between was easy, we had a great togetherness amongst our players - we were all great mates.


The goal against Saudi Arabia puts you in a select group of Irishmen who have scored at a major international tournament. Do you still replay that goal in your head now?

No, but it is a moment I shall always remember with pride.

Gary Breen of Ireland and Ivan Helguera of Spain ©INPHO/Tom Honan

We were unlucky to get knocked out by Spain. Is there sometimes a tinge of sadness when you think back at how far we could have gone if the shootout had gone our way?

Yes, that is my biggest sadness about that tournament, because we could have got to the final.


Tournaments are unpredictable as 2002 was, but can our strength be going in as underdogs this time?

Being the Underdogs seems to serve us well - and certainly in terms of our performances of late.


What centre-back partnership do you expect Martin O'Neill to go with for the tournament assuming all options are fit?

John O'Shea and Richard Keogh (which would be particularly tough on Clark who has performed brilliantly of late for Ireland).