By Jackie Cahill
Kerry star Bernie Breen is well qualified to speak about the dangers of burnout.
At 18 years of age, Breen decided that enough was simply enough and she decided to park Ladies Football for a number of years.
Breen didn’t return to the sport until she was 26 but Kerry have benefited from her freshness in recent seasons, as she has produced a series of dynamic performance from midfield.
The 33-year-old Laune Rangers player recalls: “I’d been playing since I was 14 on the Kerry senior team.
“There was college, underage, senior, minor, U16, schools, club.
“I was training six or seven days a week and there was a bit of burnout.
“There comes a time when you kind of lose a bit of interest in it and I did to be honest.
“I went to college in Cork, studying hairdressing and to become a beautician, and I didn’t even play college football.”
But Breen, who works as a gym instructor and fitness trainer at Killarney’s Brehon Hotel, started to miss football in her mid-20s and she decided to return.
She confirmed: “I did miss it. I’d still have been friends with the girls I was playing with when I was younger but it took me about two years to get back into the fitness side of things again. After that, I went back to college again, did health and fitness in UL, and that helped me along.
“But the fitness was completely different and the game had changed from when I was younger. I just needed a break at that time – and took an extended one.”
And Breen, one of the sport’s finest players, has produced arguably the best form of her career in recent years.
She believes, though, that if she hadn’t taken those years out, she may have retired early rather than finding herself in a position now where she’s still going strong.
She said: “That’s exactly it. I might have stopped when I was 27 or 28, to be honest. In the last two years, I’ve never been as fit.”
And Breen has urged young players to stick to one sport if they wish to maximise their potential.
She explained: “To be honest, one sport is enough at the moment because you have your gym days, training days and you need your rest days. They’re vital.
“If you’re on three teams, for example, I feel that would burnout would happen.
“People love sport and they’re trying to play maybe basketball and football and keep it all going but the body sometimes can’t take it.”
And Breen still harbours hope of landing that elusive All-Ireland senior medal.
Kerry haven’t won the Brendan Martin Cup since 1993 and their most recent final appearance, against Cork in 2012, ended in defeat.
Breen added: “Hopefully that’s why we’re still sticking around. We believe we do have a good chance ever year, we just seem to fall short when we hit the semi-finals.
“We come up against more experienced teams that have been there and that’s maybe why we are lacking. But if we could hit one All-Ireland, maybe we would get on a run.”
Before that, Kerry hope to secure a spot in the Lidl National League Division 1 semi-finals – but Breen reckons they’ll need to win their last two group games to make the cut.
On Sunday, the Kingdom travel to Monaghan before hosting Tyrone a week later – both winnable fixtures on all known form to date.
And Breen said: “We’ll probably be a bit rusty after having the few weeks off but we have to win our next two games to push for a semi-final spot.
“It’s always good to get into the semis and play the other top teams up there.
“In every competition, you’re trying to be in the semis and then win it out.
“During the League, Alan (O’Neill) was still trying out a few new players but we’d still be aiming for the top four.”
But Breen accepts that Kerry’s form on the road needs to improve.
In their previous two away matches, they’ve suffered heavy defeats to Armagh and Dublin and Breen said: “Our travelling isn’t good. We’ll see now on Sunday, we’re away again.
“Monaghan have had three weeks off to regroup and get it together again.
“They could be a completely different team going out next Sunday, compared to previous games.
“We’re not going to take anything for granted going up there.”