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A sporting life

Wednesday, 20th July, 2011 9:30am

A sporting life

Sport is his life. It has enriched his life since his early days growing up in Coosan over 30 years ago. In the intervening years, among his many achievements, Gordon Brett has played soccer for his town, and played competitively for two colleges at home and away. Gordon is also manager of the prestigious Sports and Recreation department of AIT.

At the age of 37, he has largely left his soccer days behind him. And while a knee injury has limited his playing of soccer over the past three years, he still kicks around in staff matches at AIT. However, his injury has been cured by almost weekly cycling races, which he has done over the past few years. It began as a hobby that has grown into triathlon competitions.

"I do no more than four or five triathlons a year, and two years ago I joined the Shannonside Cycling Club, and regularly compete in the Midland Inter-Club league races. The distance is 40km and in this country it rains a lot, so part of the challenge in some races is the weather," said Gordon laughing.

Sport has always been at the centre of Gordon's life, and he started playing soccer and gaelic football in Coosan National School. He is the eldest son of Billy Brett, whose family has run the popular Bretts Drapery Store in Athlone for the past 70 years.

As a young lad, Gordon played for St Coman's Park in the Athlone and District Schoolboy league battles, and was trained by Pat 'Cisco' Flynn. He played U10 to U16 level with Coman's and at 16 years of age, he played at League of Ireland level with Athlone's B team. At 17 years of age he made his debut in the premier division with Athlone's first team, under manager Pat Devlin, against Bohemians.

"I was very proud to be with Athlone, because I am one of the people who remember Denis Clarke and Michael O'Connor playing League of Ireland football for Athlone," said Gordon. "In my time in the Marist College in the 80s, I played both gaelic and soccer, which we were encouraged to play as much as possible."

Gordon played successfully with Athlone Town for two years, and started studying Business Studies at Athlone RTC, and a couple of years later in 1994, he went to play soccer with Galway Utd.

In 2000 Gordon was proud to have been part of a team which helped Athlone GAA avoid relegation to the intermediate ranks.

"They asked a few of us to play, and we won in a relegation play off against Tang, and that is a big memory for me, which I'm very proud of," he said.

Gordon was a high-profile soccer player with Athlone town and RTC, when at age 23 years; he was invited to join the Council of State by the then newly elected President Mary McAleese.

The Irish Council of State is a body established to advise the President in the exercise of many of her discretionary reserve powers.

Rumours circulated in the latter part of President McAleese's election campaign of 1997 that she would pick a student as a member of her Council of State, if elected. Many names were in the frame, but it was believed at the time that Athlone was the place where she would choose that student. This was around the time that Athlone RTC students were lobbying for the college to have IT status.

"Her campaign was going through difficulties, but things went well for her when she visited Athlone, and here might have kick-started her campaign before she won," said Gordon. "I was totally non-political and involved in soccer and youth affairs.

"I got a phonecall from the President in December 1997 and was asked if I would accept a position on her Council of State, which I did, and it was a great experience."

The Council of State met whenever the President had concerns about the constitutionality of a bill which had passed through Dáil Éireann and the Seanad. Gordon remained a member of the Council of State for the next seven years.

"We had to take all the information on board about the bills and their passing," said Gordon.

He sat alongside former Taoisigh Garret Fitzgerald, John Bruton, Albert Reynolds and Liam Cosgrave on the Council of State, and then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, with former President Mary Robinson, and Brian Crowley MEP. Gordon and the council met at Áras an Uachtaráin for their official meetings, at sometimes just two or three days notice.

"A special branch detective would come down to Athlone to see me, with an order to go to the meeting, and have paraphernalia for me, in a fairly thick folder, with a written version of the bill, and you would have to read it all, and be prepared to give your opinion on it, and I was very honoured to be there," said Gordon.

Gordon's position on the council was for a seven year term, and he left the role in 2004, when another seven Presidential nominees were chosen. At this time he was over 30 years of age, and by his own words, "no longer a young student,".

"It was time for me to move on and for another young person to be nominated," he said.

During his Council of State years, Gordon continued playing soccer with AIT, and was on the team that won the Irish Colleges Cup, but later he went to study in the UK at the University of Sheffield where he did a Masters in Sport and Recreation.

"I played with the university's first team for a season, and was in the East Pennines Northern Universities League and we played a game every Wednesday and Saturday," he said.

When he returned to Athlone in 1999 to work on his thesis, which was based around the feasibility of Ireland hosting the European soccer championships, he went working as the Marketing Officer in Athlone Institute of Technology.

"I was lucky enough to have brought a bit of a profile to the job, with being on the Council of State, and I was a former student in Athlone," said Gordon. "I did the job for 18 months and found it tough in ways, but it was a position that was breaking new ground, and I had great help from AIT President, Ciaran Ó Catháin and the senior management at the college. Then I went working as sports and recreation manager at the college, when that job came along in 2002."

Obviously Gordon is proud of the college that he works in, and was a former student in, and particularly the new 'Olympic standard' sports facilities which are in the process of construction at the college. As time has gone by, Gordon has gone from playing competitive soccer to doing triathlons and has done the Athlone triathlon four times, and intends to be competing into his 40s.

"A lot of guys ten years older than me are winning national championships and it shows you that your body can do more than what you think, so I'm aiming to continue that, and hopefully keep my weight at the right level," he said.

He is a member of the South Westmeath Hospice committee and before that he was involved in organising the AIT Athletics Club 5km race, for fundraising for the charity. "Doing triathlons are different to doing team sports and there is great support in Athlone to those who are doing it, and I didn't get into it easily, because for two years, I did the 200 metre 'try-a-tri' swim until I was confident to do the whole thing," said Gordon. "Athlone is still the best supported race in the country and the crowds are usually four or five deep there, and when you get over the line, it's a great buzz." Gordon is married to Athlone Community College teacher, Clare, and they have two young children, Lucy and Bobby.