BY CHRIS MCNULTY
THERE is a new-found maturity about Patrick McBrearty these days that is perhaps best reflected in his performances.
The 19-year old is in devastating form.
In two weekends, he contributed 16 points in two games (eight in each) to help Kilcar to Donegal championship wins over Glenswilly and St Michael’s to steer his club into the quarter-finals. It was in May that we saw confirmation of a young man ready to really deliver on the promise we’d seen.
Now in his third year at senior level, it is sometimes easy to forget that here was a man who, just a year ago, was in the middle of his Leaving Certificate exams as he was preparing to go toe-to-toe with Derry in an Ulster championship quarter-final.
Last year after the Ulster final, Jim McGuinness jested that McBrearty should write a book ‘How to train just 25 times and win two Ulster championships’. In his first two years of action with Donegal, that was the sum total of McBrearty’s collective sessions until the 2012 Ulster final.
His plucking from the minor team in May 2011 was remarkable. He was only completing his penultimate year in secondary school and days after playing for Donegal in an All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin he was back at Colaiste na Carraige.
The weight is off his shoulders now.
We hear the Kilcar man now talking of ‘disrespect’ shown to the rest of Ulster when there was mention of the May 26th meeting of Donegal and Tyrone as being the final; we hear him talk about the importance of the work ethic; and we see a player who is just in love with his game right now.
There was a moment last Sunday that outlined the confidence he’s playing with right now. McBrearty picked up possession from Ciaran McGinley’s ball down the right touchline. With St Michael’s defenders breathing down his neck, McBrearty nonchalantly scooped it up, turned and sailed over a beauty from an angle that would defy the logic of trigonometry.
It is the confidence that led to McGuinness taking him aboard the ship two years ago and it is now blossoming for a player who sparkled against Tyrone. He’d led the scoring on his first full start against Cavan in 2011, but now we are beginning to see a consistency in his play.
Jim McGuinness could feel it coming as he headed to war with Tyrone.
“I knew he was going to play well, McGuinness said.
“He was so consistent for his club, for the county and for the under 21s. That is a big plus. Now, all of a sudden, we have Patrick, Michael and Colm all of the same ilk. That is what any manager wants – inside forwards who can equally distribute the scores.”
McGuinness had referenced McBrearty’s contribution in a behind-closed-doors challenge against Galway as a turning point.
There is no magic formula, though.
“It’s probably just that I’m doing the simple things right,” says the Kilcar teenager.
“I’m just trying to focus on doing the right things and putting the ball over the bar instead of trying crazy things with it.
“The confidence was fairly high, anyway. Those club games I played before the Tyrone were vital for that – and I’ve tried to play as many club games as I can. The Under 21 campaign was very helpful for that too.”
McBrearty is playing a role he enjoys now with Donegal. He didn’t set the world alight in the initial phases of the League but after being left out of the starting fifteen for the game in Omagh against Tyrone he came back a new man – and his man of the match display against the Red Hands in Ballybofey showed his class.
He says: “I’m playing the same role with the county as I do with the club, closer to goal. I wasn’t doing that last year, I was more playing out as a third midfielder or a second sweeper. I’m enjoying now with the role I have and I’m definitely happier. Hopefully I can keep my hands on the jersey now and stay in the team.”
He has just completed the first year of an Arts degree at NUI Maynooth. The move to college has helped him grow, but there is so much more to credit with his development.
He says: “I feel that I’m more mature and I feel I’m more mature as a player and a person. Being involved with the group of players I am here is a massive help. I hope and think that I am maturing. I’ve learned a lot from Michael and Colm, so much about the game and how to do certain things. It’s great to have men like that alongside you.
“Jim and Rory have been a massive help, too.
“For the first few months I was totally blocked out of the stuff with the media. All I had to do was concentrate on my football – and that was a massive help to me. It was vital that I did what I did. Their advice is always spot on.
“Jim is the best manager in the country and if Rory wasn’t here I believe that he would be a brilliant manager somewhere else. We’re lucky to have them on board – hopefully they’ll be here for many years to come.”
He talked recently of the ‘head melting’ experience he had to endure as a result of the ‘bitegate’ controversy that arose after he was bitten by a Dublin player during the final National League game. It was unfortunate furore that shone the spotlight brighter than ever on him, but he hit back in the perfect fashion. It was McBrearty who was the centrepiece to the goals against Tyrone that were netted by Colm McFadden and Ross Wherity.
The opener was a route one effort, McFadden striking home after McBrearty flicked on a free by Michael Murphy.
McBrearty says: “I put the hand up to signal to Murphy to lump it in. Initially I went to catch it, but as I was rising Colm shouted to me to flick it on. I just tried to put it in his general direction. He had a lot to do, but he stuck it away nicely.”
It was his role in the second goal that was the most impressive contribution, though.
A surging run left Dermot Carlin and Martin Penrose for dead and he laid inside for Wherity to finish.
“A lot of credit has to go to Ross,” McBrearty says.
“He made a fantastic run to get to where he did. Ross was out alongside Rory when the kick out came. Ross did the right thing, but it wasn’t easy. I just happened to flick it to the right place and he did the hard part. His run from where he was was brilliant.”
He says the Leaving Cert held him back and ‘curtailed’ him last year and he feels the pressure off now.
He doesn’t turn 20 until August, but his name has been known to Donegal football people for a long time. His outings with Kilcar and Colaiste na Carraige hurtled him into the public domain and there was even interest from the Aussie Rules at one time.
He is still ‘taken aback’ that this is his third campaign with the seniors – and he still has another term left with the Donegal Under 21s.
“It is a very fortunate and privileged position that I’m in,” he says.
“Any day you get that Donegal jersey you have to try to do it justice.”
The All-Ireland final win over Mayo was the undoubted crowning moment of his young career that sees him with the unique distinction of never having lost a championship match he has started. He is unbeaten, too, in the Ulster senior championship.
The success of last year, he says, is ‘a massive motivating factor’ and there was no quenching of the thirst by the capture of Sam Maguire.
“We are hungry to get back to that level again, but we have Down to focus on now – and they certainly won’t be any pushover,” McBrearty says.
“People said after the Donegal-Tyrone game that Ulster was over. I think that’s rediculous, to be honest. You have Down here who were in an All-Ireland three years ago; Cavan have come with an upsurge and Monaghan are no bad side. To show teams like that no respect just isn’t on. We’ve only climbed one step by beating Tyrone.”