McBreen's season a great tribute

At 35, Danny McBreen is shining brightly as the league's top scorer. But if he loves football half as much as his dad, Jimmy, it's only the start.

Some people fall in love with football, and never grow out of it. Jimmy McBreen was one of those people.

There wasn't a park footballer north of the Sydney Harbour Bridge who didn't know him, or play with him. That's not to say he was only a park footballer. Jimmy was good enough to play for money in the early years of the NSL with three different clubs - Newcastle KB United, Wollongong Wolves and APIA-Leichhardt - before returning to his roots as a weekend warrior.

Perhaps the only thing Jimmy loved as much as playing football was talking about it - usually over a pint or two with his teammates. If he hadn't enjoyed the social side of the game as much as he did he might have scaled greater heights. It's a fair bet.

Jimmy had the touch and vision to have done far better in his native Lancashire than the amateur ranks of Burnley United before emigrating to Australia. By the time I started playing with him he was well into his late 30s and, shall we say, carrying a bit. But he would bedazzle opponents half his age with his craft and ingenuity, especially those who made the mistake of judging him by appearance.

The good life gave him his shape, but he rarely seemed out of shape.

Jimmy hated coming off, even if our team was leading 10-nil with a minute to go. The way he saw it, that last minute could give him one more chance to be a child again. That's what the sight of a football did to Jimmy. It excited him, pure and simple.

Jimmy would go anywhere for a game, travelling from the northern beaches down to Sutherland to play with former teammates like Craig Mason and Jeff Doyle, or out to the western suburbs, or back to Newcastle for the occasional tournament.

Believe it or not, Jimmy did actually work for a living as a financial adviser - he twisted my arm for my first-ever superannuation policy. But he never allowed his day job to get in the way of football. Even in his 40s and 50s, he would boast about playing four or five times a week. I loved, and admired, that about him. His raw enthusiasm was infectious.

I always thought Jimmy was lucky. The amount of rebounds he'd get during a game was unbelievable. Unfortunately, his luck ran out.

It's coming up to a year since Jimmy passed away, too young at 58. The form of cancer which devoured him affects one person in every two million.

He could have cursed his misfortune, and I'm sure there were times he did. But whenever we spoke after his diagnosis, he kept saying life had been good to him and he had no regrets.

Except, perhaps, that he would have liked more of it. Not being able to play football hurt him, but over those last few months fishing with his great friend Micky Fenton helped ease the disappointment.

Jimmy knew what was coming the last time I saw him, as he puffed his way up the hill after we attended the wake for former Socceroos skipper, Murray Barnes.

The steroids had bloated him, and doctors had told him to take it easy. They should have saved their breath. By the time Jimmy got his breath back that day, we'd settled into the nearest pub and he was, as always, the centre of attention.

Three hundred people turned out for Jimmy's funeral in Sydney, and another 100 attended a service back in Burnley. His passing made the sports pages of the Lancashire Telegraph, and I'm sure they raised a glass in his sister's pub in Worsthorne - the delightfully named "Crooked Billet".

I'm not sure, if anything, will happen to mark the first anniversary of his death, but the good news is that his name lives on in the Hyundai A-League, every weekend.

Jimmy has left us his only son, Daniel (he hated me calling him Danny), and I like to think it's no co-incidence that the best year of his career is a tribute to his father.

That's the way Jimmy's many former teammates like to see it, anyway. Every time he scores for Central Coast Mariners, they raise a glass. Yes, even in Newcastle.

Daniel may have lost one father, but he's gained a multitude of others. In the big football pitch in the sky he'd be proud as punch, although I can still hear him saying: ''If only he'd worked harder on his right foot.''

At the age of 35, the Hyundai A-League's top scorer is closing in on the end of his professional career. But if he loves football half as much as his dad, it's only the start.