Despite making just in excess of 200 league appearances, Tony Brien never lived up to the promise of his first couple of seasons during his five years at Saltergate. The Dublin-born Irish youth international was Paul Hart’s first major permanent signing, arriving in December 1998 from his first club, Leicester City, for a jaw-dropping £90,000 - a colossal sum, given Chesterfield’s default financial position and Tony’s lack of previous first-team action.
Supporters very quickly saw what Hart had seen, and took Tony to their hearts. He had the class to suggest that a long international career lay before him and played his best football for Chesterfield under the tutelage of Hart who, being a centre-half himself, was a fine playing mentor for the young man. Few thought Chesterfield would be anything more than a stepping stone on the path of a good football career.
Gradually, though, Tony's form fell away. The confident swagger disappeared and it seemed as though neither player nor management could find the reason, and bring about a return to his most imperious form. Supporters tended to lay the blame at the feet of certain senior professionals, under whose influence Tony seems to have fallen. Throughout these leaner times, Tony remained a first-team regular on ability alone, giving everything he had to the side.
The arrival of John Duncan did not immediately spell the end of Tony’s time at Saltergate. He was in Duncan’s first side and played in thirty straight games under the Scot until a player-exchange deal brought Nicky Law to the club and saw Tony move to Rotherham United. Hindsight tells us that this was a good deal on the manager’s part; there was an elegant and thoughtful touch to Tony’s game that was perhaps not best suited to the rough and tumble of fourth tier football, while Law turned out to have just what the team needed to tighten up the defence, as well as being a natural leader on the field.
Freed by the Millers in the summer of '95, Tony made one appearance for the Owls in an Intertoto Cup match before joining Alan Buckley at West Bromwich Albion. This step forward, career-wise, may be taken of a measure of the ability Tony possessed. Sadly, his time with the Baggies was marred by the emergence of the degenerative hip injury that would eventually claim his career, and he was freed to Hull City in the summer of 1996. Tony was forced to retire from full-time football in January 1998, at the age of 28.
After football, Tony worked as a sales representative for a beer distribution chain in the West Midlands and spent seven years running a bar in Majorca before returning to England and settling in Hull.
For Chesterfield: 201+3 league appearances, 8 goals.