GAA Football

No time for nerves for Derry skipper Padraig McGrogan

Derry captain Padraig McGrogan in action against Kerry last year. Picture by Colm O'Reilly.
Cahair O'Kane

ON the morning of the Ulster final in July, Padraig McGrogan didn’t have time to be nervous.

Two minutes before he was due to step on the team bus to head to Clones, he was still putting the finishing touches to a hastily-written speech that would thankfully see the light of day a few hours later.

It will always have been a wasted venture for one of the two captains in any All-Ireland final and McGrogan, thus, has put very little emphasis or thought into it. Same for this weekend.

Part of that is not allowing himself to dream. Dreams at this stage of the game are distractions.

The only nerves he’s had on this run were before the Ulster Championship opener against Tyrone.

“That didn’t do me any good at all for the first half. I shook the nerves after that.

“I wasn’t nervous at all before Dublin. I had a good night’s sleep before it in the Clayton that night. We heard all about the McGregor fight the next morning.”

You could tell from the absolute focus they brought to the win over Dublin three weeks ago that this Oak Leaf crop was almost wholly unaffected by the occasion.

McGrogan’s task that day was to try and curtail the key forward for the opposition, James Doran. It was going grand for the Derry skipper until he was harshly yellow carded six minutes before half-time.

There’s an outside chance that he will be handed the ultimate in man-marking tests by being asked to curtail David Clifford, but it seems more likely that it will be Conor McCluskey’s job.

Whoever it is will have been well prepared.

“In training you’re marking somebody as good as who you’ll be marking the next day. For Cavan, I was marking James Smith and I’d been put in against Callum Brown at training, which was a handful.

“James Smith was very good in the air, as you saw when they played Kerry, and Callum’s the best man to challenge for that.”

McGrogan will carry on a proud tradition of Newbridge men representing Derry on big days, from the Gribbin brothers through to Damian Barton and Dermot Dougan in more recent times.

His father and uncle Paul both played for the club, while former Derry and Bellaghy defender Paddy Downey is an uncle on his mother’s side.

The former St Pius’ student, who plans to go in to podiatry after a year out, hasn't much time out these days. 6.50am starts during the week and then up the road to milk his uncle's cows if there's no football in the evening, there's plenty to keep the mind occupied.

He was wing-back last year when Kerry’s third All-Ireland winning team on the trot accounted for Derry at the quarter-final stage last year.

Damian McErlain’s side had gone in level at the break after goals from Patrick Quigg and Feargal Higgins, but while the Kingdom’s afterburners were too powerful, McGrogan feels the turning point was the loss of tight-marking defender McCluskey.

“It was hard to take after going in level at half-time. Ten minutes into the second half, Conor McCluskey went off and that was the game changer, big time. Not that they might not still have won it, but they wouldn’t have pulled away as quickly.”

He turned 18 three weeks before the Ulster opener against Tyrone and is in doubt as to the importance of producing a big display that afternoon.

“They were one of the top four in the All-Ireland. If they had beaten us, they’d probably be sitting in our position right now, no doubt about it. That opened the season up for us, especially in Ulster.”

Derry’s man-for-man approach has drawn not only praise, but results. McGrogan is in no doubt that practicing to play in such a manner makes the entire squad better footballers.

“It exposes you out there sometimes, especially with the skillset some of the lads have. You have to be good because if you’re not, there’s no place for you. Free-flowing football is better and you enjoy it far more.

“You have to have confidence in the full-back line, because they’ve earned it. Oran McGill, that last tackle [against Dublin], I was standing beside him and you just heard the thump. He just got up and shook it off. That’s what they are in there, like a brick wall in there at times.”

If the brick wall solves the Clifford conundrum, Padraig McGrogan could well be lifting the Tom Markham Cup.

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