Cliftonville players and fans honour legendary manager Tommy Breslin
PLAYERS and fans of Cliftonville FC formed a guard of honour outside Solitude yesterday as the funeral cortege of legendary manager Tommy Breslin made a poignant visit to the place where he made footballing history.
Hundreds of people stood in solidarity with 'King Tommy' as his coffin was brought past the north Belfast ground for a final time.
Respectful silence gave way to applause as fans held aloft Cliftonville scarves and banners in honour of the 58-year-old, who died suddenly while on holiday in Spain on August 7.
The former player led the club as manager to eight trophies during just four seasons in charge.
His trophy tally included back-to-back Irish league titles in 2013 and 2014.
Leading figures from the Northern Ireland football world were among the hundreds of mourners who had earlier packed into St Gerard's Church on the Antrim Road to pay their last respects to Mr Breslin.
Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, Ballymena United boss David Jeffrey, former Glentoran and Portadown manager Ronnie McFall and Linfield legend Glen Ferguson were among those who attended as well as many past and present Cliftonville players.
Comedian Tim McGarry and Sinn Féin MLAs Gerry Kelly and Carál Ní Chuilín were also among the mourners.
In a touching tribute during the Requiem Mass, the Irish Premiership trophy was brought into the church and placed on the altar.
The Gibson Cup had been wrapped in the red and white ribbons of Cliftonville in a special tribute to Mr Breslin and his family.
A football shirt bearing the ex-Cliftonville number seven was also brought to the front of the church.
Fr Gary Donegan donned a Cliftonville scarf as he paid tribute to his friend, telling mourners that Mr Breslin's "legacy will not be forgotten" and the attendance of figures from across the Irish League and League of Ireland were "a true testimony to Bressie’s widely held affection".
He said there was a "palpable sense of the loss" following his sudden death, which had been "reflected in the moving and heartfelt tributes" to the former manager.
He recalled his sporting success, including the "eight major honours to Solitude in a mere four years, earning rightfully the term legend".
"Despite those remarkable achievements, when people speak about Tommy, they emphasise his humanity," he added.
"They speak about his smile and his mischievous sense of humour."
Fr Donegan also spoke about Mr Breslin's role in the civil service, where he had worked for almost 40 years.
He told of how he was "loyal and dedicated to his job".
"He literally took the hit when working directly to the Minister for Agriculture, having his brand new suit pelted with eggs by protestors in Portavogie."
He also recalled a story of when Mr Breslin had "worked under a particular minister whom he thought a hard taskmaster, he used to pretend he was stuck in traffic when he was still in the shower", before adding that "wild horses would not drag Brid Rodgers’s name out of my mouth".
"Although not a yes man at work, where he was respected because of his no frills and blunt honesty, he was a great friend, confidante, agony uncle and mentor to all those who were lucky to have worked alongside him," he said.
Fr Donegan told the congregation "we say to Tommy thank you for all that he gave".
"Not just just to his family but to our community, our faith, to our nation," he said.
"There was not a sectarian bone in you, you were a man who actively tried to bring about peace through the work with people.
"May we honour him by each one of us taking up that mantra of peace."
Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor also spoke during the funeral, reading a poem by John O'Donoghue, before saying: "Bressie, may you continue to inspire us."
Mr Breslin was laid to rest at Roselawn cemetery. He is survived by his partner Valerie and sisters Bernadette, Anne, Maura and Paula.