Patrick McBrearty admits Down clash told him not to take things for granted
Over a week ago, Donegal's Mark McHugh had strong opinions on how his county's supporters were taking victory over Down in an Ulster semi-final for granted.
In McHugh's mind, nothing but a seriously-hard game of football was guaranteed. In squeezing through by three points, the discourse around that encounter holds that Down revealed some soft spots in the All-Ireland champions.
Put that to Patrick McBrearty and he offers an intelligent rebuke, mature beyond his 19 years.
“Outside opinions maybe crept into the camp that said the Ulster final was the Tyrone game That does creep into people's minds and maybe we did kind of lose focus of the task at hand,” the Kilcar man said.
“The general public were saying we were going to walk over Down which wasn't the case. We, as players, didn't feel that.”
As to the body of opinion that something about Donegal was 'found out' against Down, he answers, “Every game is different. We might set out differently the next day. We always have a gameplan for an opposing team. A team might have one very good inside forward, they might have three very good inside forwards.”
He then adds with a grin, “Maybe there are chinks in our armour, I don't know. Maybe some day when we're beaten, you can analyse it then!”
McBrearty was in University of Ulster's Jordanstown campus on Monday, speaking to the latest intake of the Phoenix Elite Academy. Just four years ago, McBrearty attended the camp himself under the guidance of Ulster Council coach Tony Scullion.
The two traded friendly banter during McBrearty's impressive performance in a question and answer session in front of an auditorium packed with promising young footballers and hurlers.
He recalls, “We were in the Donegal U16 team and there were five lads selected to come up for a camp for three or four days in Jordanstown. Luckily for me, I was one of the ones selected.
“It was a great week. At the time I was away on trials and playing international soccer but I remember this through everything. It was something that I felt was very important when I made the transition from U16s to minor.”
At one stage when quizzed about his All-Ireland medal, McBrearty mentioned that Scullion also holds one, but when the former Derry full-back and four-time All-Star replied that the eager young students in the room were not born when he won his in 1993, McBrearty came back like a flash; “Neither was I!”
Laughter pealed around the room, but it took that admission to realise just how young McBrearty is. Making your senior inter-county Championship debut at 17 tends to make people absent-minded to the fact that he is still a teenager.
However, he praises the work of the management team, Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher, and captain Michael Murphy, who all keep the focus on their football. He says that every night they go out to train, the management challenge them to be the hardest-training team in Ireland, and they take it up.
Insecurity never enters their heads, McBrearty maintains.
“Even in the media before the Tyrone game there was a lot of doubt as to where this team were going after getting relegated in the League and Tyrone reaching a League final. How would we bounce back?”
McBrearty's response was a man-of-the-match performance against the Red Hands, scoring two points from play and tearing through the defence to set up Ross Wherity's goal that killed the game off.
The Ulster semi-final against Down wasn't one of his finest days and he was eventually replaced by Dermot Molloy, but he put in an uncomfortable evening the night before, having an abscess drained at a dental surgery in Cootehill.
“It was a fairly major procedure — it was an hour and three quarters. I got out of the dental surgery at 10.30 so it wasn't ideal preparation for a game.”
He deadpans that it wasn't his preferred method of preparation for an Ulster semi-final, but the local anaesthetic did the job and he slept soundly that night on returning to the Slieve Russell Hotel.
“Maybe things might have been different if my preparation had been better. It probably took a bit of focus off my game,” he adds.
Monaghan await them in an Ulster final. This is McBrearty's third Ulster campaign, and he has reached the final each time.
He chalks off the opponents one by one as he concludes, “I think we've done well mentally and physically. We set the challenge down to ourselves that we were going to train really hard and it paid off. We beat Tyrone and that was the main objective and we went on to beat Down which was the next objective.
“We have the objective of beating Monaghan in the UIster final and hopefully we'll get over that.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital