IT’S FAIR to say that this summer has been a bit of an adventure for Paddy McBrearty. A life-changing one even. In the coming weeks. Just as he prepares for an All-Ireland final he commences his third level studies.
The popular choice for inter-county players is to go into the whole area of sports, be it sports science or Physical Education teaching, but just like how he goes about things on the football field, McBrearty is breaking from the norm as he heads for NUI Maynooth.
“I’m going to be studying secondary school teaching, with geography and history as my two main subjects. I suppose it’s true that it’s a bit different. I had been thinking of PE and biology in DCU, but I decided that this was a better avenue for me to go down.
“Maynooth have been doing well. I watched them in the Sigerson Cup final this year, and it’s clear that they have a lot of very good footballers down there. They’ve been going well at Freshers level over the past few years as well, so hopefully I can be part of that and play a part in it.”
With an All-Ireland final engagement this weekend and the possible craziness of an All-Ireland winning homecoming ahead of him, the Kilcar man is hoping that he won’t be seeing too much of Maynooth over the next few weeks.
“That’s the plan anyway. I’m hoping to go down for a few days, show my face, then not be back till the start of October.
“It’s going to take good time management skills, which I’m going to have to learn very quickly because they’re pretty non-existent at present. Up until now, I only had to worry about going in and out the road to school. Now it’s going to be a case of sorting out transport up and down the road for training, as well as juggling my study commitments with football ones. It’s going to be a challenge.”
McBrearty is readying himself for the challenge of taking on Mayo in the All-Ireland decider, but he admits that he would have liked to have been facing Dublin once again, and not just to dish out a rich serving of revenge.
He may be Donegal through and through when it comes to his football, but there’s blue blood in him which ensures that Dublin will always have a special place in McBrearty’s heart.
“I lived in Dublin for ten years. My mum is from Dublin, and we lived in Terenure. My dad was from up here in Donegal, so we made the move to Kilcar when I was ten years old. I played all of my underage football with Kilcar, apart from training a few times with St James’ Gaels in Dublin. It was always the plan really that we would end up in Donegal, and every summer we’d be down to Donegal as soon as we’d finish school.
“Dublin remains my second home, I’ve still got a lot of relations down there. Tommy Conroy, who won All-Irelands and an All-Star playing for Dublin in the 1980s, is an relation of mine. Dublin football is in my blood, and I suppose it’s not a bad county to have an affiliation to.”
Now in his second campaign with Donegal, McBrearty is a seasoned pro on the inter-county stage. When you watch him operating with such an overwhelming sense of calm and maturity, it’s hard to believe that it was only in last year’s preliminary round clash with Antrim that the young attacker made his senior debut just an hour after lining out for the Donegal minors.
Like every other challenge that has been put in front of him since then, McBrearty took it all in his stride. He made light of the white heat of the Ulster championship and the pressure of that clash with the Saffrons at Ballybofey, and hasn’t looked back since.
“It definitely was a very nerve-wrecking and intimidating situation to come in to. It was such a step up from what I was used to, even though I had been lucky enough to have had three years with the county minors. Luckily for me I had a great man in Jim [McGuinness] to take me and guide me through it all. He gave me great advice, still does, and I haven’t looked back since.
“Of course there’s a certain degree of pressure, and there’s a certain element of nerves. The day of my debut, I think playing the minor game first helped me because I was used to the crowd and everything else. For the Cavan game then in the next round, not a lot of people knew I was starting although I had known it for some time before. There was no pressure, everything to gain and nothing to lose. I just went out and played as if I was playing for my club, and thankfully it paid off.”
The rise to prominence of McBrearty and Donegal’s emergence as contenders for silverware can be charted on exactly the same line. They made their breakthrough by claiming the Anglo-Celt last year, and went on to defend their provincial crown earlier this summer.
Donegal made light of the added sense of expectancy and surpass their achievements of last year and go one step further to reach the All-Ireland final, and they may not be finished yet. It has been a phenomenal run, taking them past Cavan, Derry, Tyrone, Down, Kerry and Cork, but McBrearty admits that it has been far from easy.
“In Ulster, we definitely found that teams were out to beat you. That’s how it had been the whole way through the league as well. Teams raise their game against you and it gets tougher to get results. But fair play to all the boys, they took their performances individually and collectively to another level. All of that hard work has paid off in that we have reached an All-Ireland final, and stand just one more win away from being All-Ireland winners.”
Of course all attention at present is on the county scene, but before too long McBrearty will be back in the colours of Kilcar as they contest for the Donegal senior championship title. They’re an exciting young bunch, an emerging force under the guidance of his uncle James McHugh. They look destined to be amongst the frontrunners for silverware sooner rather than later.
With his county assistant boss Rory Gallagher now added to the Kilcar coaching mix, and his county colleague Mark McHugh alongside him, McBrearty is hoping that they can bring a little bit of that Donegal magic back to their club.
“It makes training within the club very competitive. This year obviously there’s myself and Mark, last year we had Michael Hegarty on the squad as well. We also had four county minors as well to add to the mix. Things are certainly looking bright for Kilcar, it’s a good young team and if we can manage to keep everyone involved, and avoid losing anyone to emigration, then hopefully we will become competitive in terms of contesting for county titles before too long.”
Of course McBrearty could easily have found himself in a very different place this weekend. Two years ago, Aussie Rules agent Ricky Nixon was hot on the heels of the young attacker, taking time to watch him in schools action, while back in February of this year McBrearty was the only Donegal player to attend Tadhg Kennelly’s AFL recruitment camp in Dublin.
Although he could easily have been involved in the AFL play-offs this weekend, and would no doubt have made a big splash Down Under, McBrearty is happy with where he now finds himself.
“I was watching the Dublin-Mayo game, and Colm O’Rourke actually spoke about Ciaran Kilkenny turning down an opportunity to play AFL. He said that why would he want to be anywhere else when he could play in front of 82,000 at Croke Park in an All-Ireland semi-final on a Sunday afternoon.
“The All-Ireland final is the biggest sporting occasion in the country, it’s where every player wants to be on that Sunday in September but something which very few actually get to experience. Thankfully, I’m going to get that chance this year.”
It’s been eventful, and has already secured its place in the hearts and minds of Donegal players and supporters alike as a year to remember. But Donegal don’t do ‘almost.’ They don’t settle for second best.
Their biggest challenge is still ahead of them, and McBrearty is in no doubt whatsoever about the enormity of the task facing them, or the huge incentives which exist if they can finish their All-Ireland crusade with another famous win.
“It’s by far and away the biggest thing we’ve done as players. The management are top class, we’ll be prepared as best as we possibly can be for it. It’s a fantastic opportunity, a massive game, but we’ll just be approaching it in exactly the same way as we have approached every other game this year. It is a policy which has worked well for us so far, so why would we want to change it.
“A lot of people I have been speaking to have said that the Donegal performance against Cork last time out was one of the best Donegal performances they had ever seen. But we know that even the same level of performance again in the final will not be enough to secure us an All-Ireland title.
“There are still so many fond memories of 1992 around Donegal, and of course Kilcar is no different. In my own house, the 1992 final ticket is still on the wall in one of the rooms. That’s what we’re striving for again. Hopefully this weekend we’ll be able to make our own bit of history.”