BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN BALLYBOFEY
PATRICK McBrearty might only be 21 years old, but Saturday night’s game against Derry was his 46th for Donegal.
McBrearty was drafted into the squad for the 2011 Ulster Championship clash against Antrim and, after playing for the minors in the curtain-raiser, the Kilcar man came on as a sub for the seniors.
McBrearty kicked five points on Saturday night, three of them magnificent efforts from play, and he has the cut of a man who feels as if his time as come.
In November, while on the All-Stars tour in America, McBrearty spoke about missing out on a starting berth for the All-Ireland final and wanting to become Donegal’s go-to man.
“I don’t think that anyone wants the title of a super-sub,” McBrearty said in Boston.
“I was going in there at a time that Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy were probably the two predominant forwards in Ulster. I was kind of the wee sideshow over in the other corner. So it was just about patience and waiting for your time to come.”
Rory Gallagher knows McBrearty better than most. Having been Jim McGuinness’s assistant for three years and having worked with him at Kilcar, Gallagher is well aware of McBrearty’s prodigious talents.
McBrearty was awarded Man of the Match by Setanta Sports after kicking five fine points, the pick of which was a sumptuous point swung over from the right-hand side six minute from the end.
“I don’t really agree with his own thoughts there,” Gallagher said when reminded of McBrearty’s words from Boston.
“I know him well enough now at this stage. He was more accurate today and his shot selection was good. He has matured a lot. We threw him in very young, when he was only 17 and this is his fifth season. He’s developing all the time. He’s always trying to improve. Today was great for him.
“Patrick loves playing football. He’s one of those lads who has nothing in his life bar football. He has a lot on his plate with the Sigerson Cup and I know that he’s enjoying that immensely. It’s a big couple of weeks for him.”
4,550 turned up to Sean MacCumhaill Park to witness Gallagher’s first League game as Donegal manager and will have been pleased by the second-half turnaround as the hosts came from three down to win by six.
Gallagher said: “We’re delighted. It relieves a wee bit of immediate pressure.
“It’s better to get off to a winning start. It’ll be a competitive League and it’ll be topsy-turvy. Points will be hard come by, but you always want to get off to a winning start in front of your home supporters.”
The Donegal boss described himself as ‘exceptionally disappointed’ with his side’s first-half display, but had a simple message at the break.
Gallagher said: “We just said: ‘Up the ante here lads’. We were allowing Derry to dictate the game and we weren’t pushing out, getting on the ball. We were too defensive in our mindset, but in the second half we pushed out and turned over ball.
“We maybe didn’t set things out clearly enough for the lads. Derry had the upper hand in the first half and controlled large parts of the game.
“In the second half the boys went out and upped their energy levels. We took a good platform in the middle of the park and everything came from there after that.
“We’re pleased to win and I’m delighted with the second-half performance. We played a lot of good football. Our work-rate and energy levels in the second half were very good. Considering how poor we were in the first half, that was pleasing.”
By the eighth minute of the second half, through points from Martin McElhinney, McBrearty, Martin O’Reilly and Michael Murphy, Donegal were back in front. McElhinney came in at centrefield to good effect, Murphy was restationed at the square’s edge for part two and Donegal took charge.
Gallagher said: “We had one or two small positional changes, but it was down to the players – they upped their effort levels. There was nobody more disappointed than them at half-time. Coming back here for the first time after the All-Ireland final, they wanted to make a statement. At half-time we hadn’t done that. It was terrific in the second half to turn things around.
“Five minutes before half-time, we thought that these boys’ legs were gone. It’s amazing what a bit of momentum can do.
“We’re far from the level that we want to be at. The majority of the rest of the teams are ahead of us in terms of fitness, but that’s the decision we made. That’s what makes it pleasing to grind out a result.”
Odhrán MacNiallais neatly tucked home a Donegal goal after Murphy smacked a penalty onto the crossbar less than two minutes earlier.
“He doesn’t have much luck with Marty Duffy refereeing – he did that All-Ireland Under-21 final (when Murphy hit the bar from a penalty against Dublin) in 2010 as well,” Gallagher said. “It was a great strike. At the same time, we had the whole momentum and we were the better team at that stage. When things are like that you expect to push on.”