Goalkeeper Paul Durcan still the 'Big Daddy' in Donegal
THE current Donegal team is virtually coming down with leaders-but there is only one ‘Big Daddy’.
And that just has to be their towering keeper from Donegal Town-one Paul ‘Papa' Durcan.
For many in Tir Chonaill, 'Papa' will be forever remembered for stretching out his long leg while diving in the opposite direction to deny Tyrone’s Martin Penrose a certain goal in the dying seconds of their epic encounter with Tyrone in Clones in 2012.
Donegal went on the win the All-Ireland that year.
But the 31-year-old also pulled off a crucial early save in last month’s Ulster semi-final against Derry.
These days he is playing with Ballyboden St Enda’s but remains a very important part of Rory Gallagher’s armoury for Sunday’s clash with Monaghan.
But Durcan’s value is not just as a priceless shot stopper as his pin point kick-outs are legendary.
Possession is so important in modern Gaelic football so the kick out is so crucial as the first weapon of attack.
And Durcan’s ability to bend the ball with the outside of the boot and find a team mate is a key part of Donegal’s strategy.
Also, Durcan was for many years his ex-club Four Masters' free-taker, which adds to his value.
Last year, he suffered the horror of seeing Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy goal in the All-Ireland football final after a misdirected kick out.
But this will not unduly affect the ex-Finn Harps keeper according to Donegal’s goal keeping coach James Gallagher, who is no slouch when it comes to assessing goalkeepers.
The 35 year-old Cloughaneely native went to Celtic as 16 year-old but suffered an injury that curtailed his career.
He later played with Finn Harps so he in an excellent position to assess the impact Paul Durcan has on the team.
Gallagher has been highly impressed with the level of detail Donegal have put into their preparations.
When asked about the difference between soccer and Gaelic goalkeepers he said the biggest one was in dealing with the high ball.
“Soccer goalies in general would be good kickers, accurate kickers and they have a big advantage on the high ball as there would be nobody putting up their fist to contest the ball with them.
“If you get your timing right you should be winning those balls10 out 0f 10.”.
Gallagher was quite to point out that Durcan wasn't suffering from the Donaghy incident during the National League.
“Well I suppose I am not interested in what happened back then and neither is Paul and everybody has moved on.
“From my own personal view, whenever it happened to me, we just moved on.
“It’s not something that is in our radar at the moment”.
But Gallagher rates Durcan right at the top of current Gaelic keepers.
“He has a lot of attributes.
“We are working on a lot of aspects of his game but the core qualities that you need are there.
‘The high ball is one major attribute as he as such authority going up for the catch, and he is well able to make the vital saves on the ground or in the air.
“Paul has got himself into good condition and worked extremely hard over the last few months but there is still room for improvement.
“There is no problem there because Paul just wants to train and play just like the rest of the boys.
“The biggest thing Paul brings to the game is presence (some have compared him to a darker version of Peter Schmeichel."
Durcan underlined his quality by pulling off that crucial early save against Derry in the Ulster semi-final.
“His reaction with the movement where he just closed down the space really quickly was superb.
‘When you are the size he is, when you close the space you go from a big man to a giant who is very hard to get past.
“But that is what Paul is there for and he is well able to do that.
“That save made sure that we were able to get a bit of control in that game instead of falling behind early on”.