McBrearty is in a class of his own
One of the often-quoted lines by those eulogising Gaelic Games is that while we may be entertained in our thousands on a Sunday, those that do battle on the field could be teaching children in a classroom, delivering post, or pulling pints the next day.
It’s different for Donegal’s Patrick McBrearty though. As Donegal begin their Ulster Championship defence this Sunday, the precocious Kilcar youngster will immediately turn his focus after the match to his upcoming Leaving Certificate exams.
His senior journey last year began after the Ulster under-21 campaign, when senior assistant manager Rory Gallagher said it was a pity he wasn’t older, as he could do a job for the seniors.
Soon after, McBrearty got a message from manager Jim McGuinness and in the week of the Championship opener against Antrim, he was aware he was in the frame.
After being beaten by Antrim in the minor game, he was immediately brought into the senior fold, appearing as a second-half sub.
Those in the press box on that day began scanning their mental hard-drive for other such examples in the Ulster Championship and came back with two; the great Frank McGuigan and Down’s Benny Coulter.
“I'll remember that day for the rest of my life,” says McBrearty at the Donegal open night.
“It's an exclusive club of people to have done that. Benny Coulter was the last man to do that, so to follow those footsteps is unreal.
“I was warming up and Jim gave me the call. But it was only when I was on the field and the instructions were coming from Kevin Cassidy and Michael Murphy that I realised where I was and it sank in,”
The next game was Cavan, his first start and goal. The contest had yet to take on a pattern as he slid the ball underneath goalkeeper James Reilly in the first half. Because the goal rigging was not pinned down, the ball rolled on through and the celebrations became a delayed reaction.
“I can't really remember getting the goal, but the hole in the net took the shine off it a wee bit. Half the people in the crowd probably didn't know it had gone in. It came at a good time because we'd been struggling. It gave the team the boost it needed.”
It must feel like a lifetime ago. This time last year he was a secret weapon, but now everyone is aware of his threat.
His own innocence is perfectly captured when he talks about the experience of being in an Ulster final last year.
“I went out to watch the minor game and was thinking that, with a bit of luck the Donegal minors could have been there.
“At the start of the year my ambitions were to be in the Ulster final with the Donegal minors; I never even thought I'd be there with the seniors. It was fantastic to win an Ulster medal.
“It was a massive honour and seeing grown men cry on the pitch in Clones made you realise what you'd done and what it meant to people.”
We all know how it ended of course. Defeat to Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final and the most debated game of the modern era. It took a few days, but eventually McBrearty returned to his studies. There were photographers there at the gates, waiting to capture the moment.
“It has given me a great motivational factor in having an Ulster medal under my belt. It has probably settled me down and matured me. It was fantastic. Working with the lads here,” he says as he looks around at Jim McGuinness and senior members of the Donegal squad at O’Donnell Park in Letterkenny.
“It has matured me as a person and that can only benefit me in my studies too.”
Young, talented and gifted, with a growing maturity to appreciate it too.