Leon Breen has a story to tell, and he’s not going to rush. There will be pauses, breaks, tangents, frequent bouts of self-interruption. He will swear like a sailor, and often talk for five minutes only to check himself with a cheerful “What was the question again?”. He will put forth colourful views on everything from the snobbery he sees in Trinity (“I just don’t have time for lads in suits coming to college and that kind of stuff”), to the struggles of living at home (“me and the aul’ one have scraps the whole time, I’m a bit of a mouthy cunt when I’m hungry”). And at the end of it, when one of Trinity GAA’s best-known faces is finished answering every question The University Times can think of, this reporter will depart feeling that he could now write a book on Breen if he wanted to. Or a Wikipedia entry at the least. Such has been the nature of the interview.
It takes a while to get a hold of Breen. After a year in which he coached Trinity GAA’s freshers hurling team to an All-Ireland League-and-Championship double, the third-year theoretical physics student, best known as commander-in-chief of the club’s widely acclaimed Twitter, has spent the summer west of the Atlantic. He is in Las Vegas, midway through a road-trip along the west coast of America, when I eventually catch him on an unusually steady Whatsapp line. “It’s fairly fuckin’ loose out here”, he announces, with gravitas. “It’s mad.”
I sense Breen could talk all day about the wild summer he’s had and I am half-tempted to let him. I force myself to be professional. How did he end up in Trinity? “Eh …” A pause. Breen gathers his thoughts. “I put a few things down on the aul’ CAO, but I only had one thing I knew I wanted to do. At the risk of sounding…whatever, it [theoretical physics] was all I wanted. I had general science second, to go in a back way, but in my head I was doing it and that was it.” He clarifies his position. “Now, I am completely against the whole Trinity snobbery, I hate the whole typical…Trinity wanker kind of thing, I really really don’t like it.” Another silence. “But on my CAO, it was one to 10 Trinity. I knew I’d be going to Trinity. Like, my last course on the CAO was 350 points for philosophy! So I just knew. It was always going to be [getting] a bus in, and then all the nice places to eat, it just suits me down to the ground.”
What is most striking about Breen – more even than his gregarious exterior – is his certainty, his lack of self-doubt. It never stretches to arrogance, but there is an undeniable confidence there. It wasn’t always like this. “In first year I did a lot of worrying”, he confides. “I was not good at the course. And there would be times when I’d be looking around – because there’s lads in my course who are complete geniuses – and I’d be struggling to do one question of homework while they’d be flying ahead doing extra questions, and I was just like ‘What is going on here?’”
I was not good at the course. And there would be times when I’d be looking around – because there’s lads in my course who are complete geniuses – and I’d be struggling to do one question of homework
How did a nervous first-year transform into the assured young man on the other end of the line? Breen points directly to Trinity GAA. “Being dead honest, without it I reckon I would have dropped out. Just, the course was mental hard. But with the GAA, having the boys there, who kind of knew, or some of them would’ve been in the same boat…just having the break from it all was so important.”
Breen’s advice to freshers? “Get involved in something. I mean, that’s the deadly thing about Trinity, there’s so many different types of people. I’d consider myself far away from the lads in Players or … the business societies. But it’s such a diverse mix, there is something for absolutely everyone.”
Breen stops for breath. “And don’t be worrying about the academic side of college.” He laughs, sheepish. “I suppose, in terms of college, that’s not great college advice but just … enjoy it. You spend a lot of time in college worrying about having assignments due and that, but they always get done. So I wouldn’t worry so much about the academic part of it – especially in first year – just go make mates and fuckin’ enjoy it.”
I wouldn’t worry so much about the academic part of it – especially in first year – just go make mates and fuckin’ enjoy it
As manager of the freshers hurling team, Breen is well-placed to offer such advice. I wonder, though, how he found coaching players barely a year his junior. Was it strange? “It’s a weird feeling”, he admits. “When you’re in the dressing room and you start talking and the boys shut up and listen … it’s just weird.” But, he is quick to add, it is a good kind of weird. “Being the manager, it’s different, but I liked it a lot.” But this doesn’t do the experience justice. “I loved it. I’m doing it again because I love it so much. Getting to know them all, the buzz of it…it’s an excuse to make more mates really you know?”.
This is a theme which has cropped up time and time again throughout the interview. “Trinity GAA, it’s like a family”, he offers at one point, albeit with mild embarrassment. “The boys are all such good mates.” And that, for Breen, is the key to happiness in college. “Just making mates and getting involved in stuff, buzzing off people and being sociable. Because there is something there…that can make your college experience some of the best years of your life.”