”I’ve lost provincial finals before and it takes a long time to recover - if you do recover...” Donegal skipper Paddy McBrearty says Sam Maguire draw is only a distraction ahead of Ulster final

Hard to get “back on the horse” if you lose Anglo-Celt decider warns Donegal star McBrearty

Donegal captain Patrick McBrearty roars away from the net to celebrate a goal against of Cork during the National Football League Div 2 match played at Ballybofey on Sunday 28th January 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal captain Patrick McBrearty says Armagh are his county's only focus. Picture Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

THE draw for the All-Ireland group stage is only a distraction, says Donegal captain Paddy McBrearty, whose only focus is the Ulster final against Armagh on Sunday-week.

Would Donegal be in a better Sam Maguire group if they lost the Anglo-Celt decider? Would the losers of the Galway-Mayo Connacht final arguably have an easier group than the winners? Possibly, but, speaking from experience, McBrearty says it’s “really hard to get back on the horse” after defeat in a provincial final. For him winning is the best preparation for Donegal who would then go into group three with the losers of the Clare-Kerry Munster final, Tyrone and Cork.

“The All-Ireland draw probably is a distraction,” said the Kilcar clubman.

“It’s not been mentioned in our dressingroom but people in general are on about: ‘Would you be better off to lose the Connacht final than win it?’ I don’t know, knowing the Galway lads, I’m sure they’ll be going full-steam ahead to win a Connacht title.

“I don’t think losing those games can set you up well for the rest of the year – I’ve lost provincial finals before and it takes a long time to recover from them; if you do recover from them. It’s really, really hard to get back on the horse.

“In terms of if we win or lose, I’ve haven’t put much heed on it – it’s all about Armagh now.”

McBrearty was taken off at half-time in last Sunday’s Ulster semi-final against Derry at Celtic Park but he was thrown back in during extra-time and repaid Jim McGuinness’s faith with a trademark finish late in the game. It was a score he needed.

“Every forward prides themselves on scoring,” he said.

“You need to be scoring - I wouldn’t say I’m in the team for my defensive capabilities anyway!

“Things weren’t going well for myself in front of the posts and then the last one just came – it’s a shot that I’ve practiced a lot and there’s a high probability of scoring really.

“You don’t really think in the moment – you’re in the pocket and there’s two yards of space so you just kick it over. There’s not much thinking about it but it sets you up well for going into training the following Tuesday.

“When it goes over it’s great for a milli-second and then you’re thinking; ‘What’s my job now in terms of kick-outs and pressing the ball or whatever’.

His Kilcar clubmate Ryan McHugh missed last year’s turbulent Donegal campaign but has returned reinvigorated this season. Whether it’s winning break-ball around midfield, helping out in defence or getting forward for scores, McHugh has been in superb form in the wins over Derry and Tyrone.

“He’s playing 10 years now and he’s 30, same age as myself,” said McBrearty.

“Probably the break away did him the world of good mentally and physically and Jim coming back. It’s given Ryan a really good stepping stone this year and when Ryan plays well we generally play well so long may it last.”