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McGrogan is ready to power Derry to success

 

By Declan Bogue

As great as the pressures are on Derry minor captain Padraig McGrogan in the week of an All-Ireland final, he is never far from getting in touch with nature.

Most of his peers have the notion of Fresher's Week in the background, but McGrogan's days are filled with milking his uncle's herd of cattle in Newbridge.

If called upon, he is a handy man to have on the farm. At the Ulster final launch, his manager Damian McErlain also revealed out of McGrogan's earshot that he is a wizard at welding with the soldering iron too.

If things were different, McGrogan would be thinking of college too. But after not getting into a podiatry course, he spurned the offer of doing Sports Studies in Jordanstown to work for a year and repeat his biology 'A' Level.

"It's not that it isn't a good course," he says of the Sports Studies course offered. "It's just not something I had my heart set on. It's not what I wanted to do and I didn't want to waste my time."

Such maturity and patience is a rarity among teenagers, but those qualities are the reason that minor manager McErlain assigned McGrogan the role of man-marking Kerry wunderkid David Clifford in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final and appointed him captain for this season.

Standing well over six foot, he radiates the kind of confidence that has even McErlain himself hailing this group as the best of the three minor groups he has taken at this level.

Now they face familiar foes in Kerry in Sunday's final. McGrogan may be asked once again to stay on the toes of Clifford, who hit 1-10 against Cavan in the semi-final, but he is not giving anything away just yet.

"Ack, he is a deadly player to be fair to him," he says of one of the most talked-about minors ever.

"He is bigger than most players at minors. He is very physical. He has great skill and his shooting is unreal off either foot. He is an all-round good player, his first touch is good, his shooting is good."

However, one thing Derry do well is prepare for the opposition. They squeezed past Tyrone in the first round of Ulster before commandingly defeating Antrim in the semi-final and Cavan in the final.

They had a slight wobble against Sligo in the All-Ireland quarter-final but kept their heads when required. Facing Dublin in the semi-final they were perhaps fortunate the favourites committed a series of shocking wides in the second half before the pendulum swung in favour of the Oak Leaf boys as they made a sprint for home in the final quarter.

Then again, they left little to chance.

"Before the game I was told that if we won the toss to play into the Hill for the second half," reveals McGrogan.

"A lot of ones say that the Dubs favour shooting into the Hill in the second half of games. I wouldn't say that was what worked, but we had a lot of poor shooting into the other end in the first half also. It seemed to be that way the whole day."

As a child, Croke Park was a familiar venue to the young Padraig, brought along by his father Hugh - who has a couple of reserve Championships with Newbridge to his name - with siblings Shane, Conor and Ciara.

But on these evenings, Croke Park is a forbidden topic of conversation around the dining table.

"We try to ignore it completely. We just have a job to do and go out to do it as best we can," he laughs.

If a decisive conclusion is reached at the end of the game, McErlain instantly goes from being the Derry minor manager to Derry senior manager.

It's a funny time for Derry supporters. Over the last three years the senior team has gone from beating Dublin in National League games to starting life in 2018 in the third tier.

Meanwhile, McErlain has brought back a lot of self-esteem with his successful minor stint, capturing two Ulster titles in three years.

McGrogan is enthusiastic about what he brings to the table.

"He is very good tactically. Most of the time we have a gameplan for every game. If it needs changed, he will change it up, no doubt about that. He has the personal match-ups on the field. Every team does it," he says.

"There is a lot of video work in the weeks leading up to the games. Just really in Championship time, not so much during the league. But you focus on the opposition, you have to give them the respect," he states.

In the meantime, they have to play a game and not an occasion.

"If you started thinking about it, it would keep you up at night. You just have to put it to the side and you will enjoy it much better if you are winning, if you focus on the game," he adds.

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