GAA Football

Paul Durcan relishing Championship challenge

Paul Durcan of Donegal warming up against Kildare during the NFL match at Ballyshannon March 24 2019. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin.
Gerry McLaughlin

Papa is back - first names and surnames are entirely superfluous for Donegal's own “Big Daddy” who is also the county's best known “boot boy.”

At 6ft 5ins, 35-year-old Paul Durcan stands tall, a heavy black beard flecked with grey, like a benevolent Arabian Sheikh, effortlessly dispensing laconic bonhomie on the hacks gazing up on a real legend.

Durcan was a key figure in that famous All-Ireland victory of 2012 when those radar like passed with the outside of the boot were a key part of Jim McGuinness's winning strategy.

But there was another side when it went awry against Kerry in the All-Ireland final of 2014 when the slice went to Kieran Donaghy and Kerry profited handsomely in one of the worst All-Irelands on record.

His comeback has been big news in Donegal who are 23/1 to win the All-Ireland, but you would not get near those odds on the big Donegal Town native lining out against his old friend Rory Gallagher's Fermanagh.

But he gently reminds the hacks that he had not retired, but it would be difficult travelling from the hot sands of Dubai.

These days he is in Drumcliffe, county Sligo and not far from his old Sigerson manager Michael Breslin, so travelling is not too bad.

“Yes I am just loving to be back, but I am definitely feeling old this time around, but these lads are a great bunch,'' said Durcan.

“I have enjoyed getting back to the training and it has been a hard few months, but it is very enjoyable.”

So why is he back?

“I moved home from the Middle East in December and Karl (Lacey) was on to me and at the time Declan contacted me and I had a chat with the boys and decided to give it a go in February.

“I was happy to give it a go.”

So, did he miss it a lot when he was away?

“I did not for the first couple of years and put the head down but once the Championship came around, you were seeing it on the TV.

“I was working with Ryan Bradley out there and we used to go and watch the game and it was tough then, that was the hardest bit.

“But I did not miss the training or driving up and down from Dublin.

“I never realised I had the opportunity to do it again, but I am delighted to get that chance.”

Durcan impressed pretty well in a winter charity match in Downings, and showed that his radar like accuracy had not deserted him and that encouraged him to return.

He added: “It's good training with Andy, the goal keeping coach, and Shaun Patton and Michael Lynch who are both good goalkeepers.”

Durcan made his debut against Antrim in the Ulster Championship in 2004 and played until the end of 2015 when he left with an All-Ireland medal and three Ulster medals.

But he does find any real changes in the set up since the McGuinness era, except that it takes longer “for me to recover.”

“It is still very professional, but it is funny watching Lacey at the other end of the stick, that is the biggest change for me,” as the laconic one-liners still pop out effortlessly.

When asked about all the young lads he replied “Jesus, there are some lads there who were just after being born when I made my debut.

“It is brilliant, and I am really enjoying their attitude, they really want to win and I can see it and I knew I made the right decision to give it a go.”

When asked about meeting up with Fermanagh and Rory Gallagher, who one hack suggests is “full of tricks”, “Papa” leaps to the defence of his old mentor.

“Rory brought me through a lot of years even with Jim,'' said Durcan.

“I was a point of contact from Dublin and Rory was so attentive.

“He lived through that too and he was always good to chat to.

“So, I have a lot of time for him and he gave me a lot of opportunities through football.

“And what he is doing with Fermanagh is something special and Hugh McFadden says he is doing a very good job coaching Killybegs as well.”

So, what does Papa think about all these keepers who are “playing as super sweepers out the field like Rory Beggan and Niall Morgan?

“I suppose it was there in my time too,” he states.

“My feeling still is the number one thing is to keep the goals out and if you are doing that right it is the main thing.

“If you can add to it out the field, fair play, but it is not something I will be doing.”

But who would bet against Papa making a return to Brewster?

Just like he had never been away.

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