GAA Football

Paddy McBrearty proud to captain Donegal as Kerry visit for League opener

Paddy McBrearty takes the armband for Donegal's Division One opener against Kerry in Ballybofey on Sunday
By Gerry McLaughlin

All the savants are saying that Kerry are rocking into Ballybofey on Sunday with only five of their All-Ireland winning side and none of the six forwards that played in the final last September.

At least that is the word coming out of the Kingdom.

But newly-appointed Donegal captain Paddy McBrearty is not buying into the notion that the Kingdom will be very much understrength.

McBrearty has taken over the captain's armband from Michael Murphy and is looking forward to leading out his side for the first time. But he stressed that whatever team Kerry decide to put out they will still be a major threat.

“We would not pay much attention to that. Kerry, no matter what kind of state they are in are always going to be tough opposition,'' says McBrearty.

“They are the All-Ireland champions, and it is going to be a huge battle for us, no matter who they have on the bus on the way up.

“Whoever they have on the pitch on Sunday will still be a massive test for us because they will want to stake claims to starting places when the other lads are absent.

“They will be wanting to impress Jack O'Connor so we just can't take our eye off the ball for a second.”

Much has been said about Donegal missing the leadership of the retired Murphy and Neil McGee, but McBrearty has no doubt about the character that remains within the panel and says the disappointments of last year have been discussed.

“We met as a group at the start of the year and picked out eight or nine things that we would like to do differently this year.

“The consensus at the end of it was this is what we need to fix, yet we were only a kick of a ball away from winning an Ulster championship against Derry.

“That one really sticks with us, and we feel we only played to 30 per cent of our potential and we have been in the last 10 out of 12 Ulster finals so why can't we get back there.

“There is still great experience here and the young lads that have come in have worked hard and they have added something to us.''

When asked how it felt to be captaining his county, he said: “It's a proud moment for myself, my family, and my club Kilcar.

“It's a great honour and a big challenge to fill Michael's boots but it is one I am looking forward to and I hope we get off to good start on Sunday”.

McBrearty is a senior citizen at 29 so was he surprised or was it ever on his radar?

“It was not really at all. When Michael leaves there is a huge gap to fill but there are loads of leaders in this group and there are five or six boys who could have been captain so when Paddy Carr and Aidan O'Rourke came to me and told me, I was delighted, and it was something I was not going to pass up.”

It has been a super-charged decade for the Kilcar ace who admits that it has gone by “in a flash”.

“I remember my first training session like it was yesterday and we are now in 2023 and time has flown, and we had a lot of good days and a lot of bad days, but I am just glad about the way my body has held up the way it has.

“I really only had one serious injury that kept me out for a while and hopefully that will be all.

“I was only 17 when I came in and I was delighted, going into school, and telling the boys that I was on the senior county team was probably the main thing at the time.

“Maybe I did not really appreciate it at the time, but it was a serious team to be a part of and we had some great days in 2011 and 2012 and so many lads that I learned from.''

McBrearty demurs slightly when he is asked what kind of a captain he wants to be.

He has been captain of his club and led them to a Donegal championship in 2017, has an All-Ireland medal and five Ulster gongs and he won't be 30 until August.

And he is also one of the few players to play for his county at minor and senior level on the same day – joining the great Frank McGuigan of Tyrone who did it in 1972.

“I want to get my game right first to gain the respect of the lads and that is the most important thing and the rest of it will take care of itself”.

Nor is he one to make big speeches in the dressing room.

“There's plenty of boys that love to talk but I have always had the mantra that I only speak whenever I need to and that will continue.”

But in his new role, McBrearty has played under some great role models.

“Yes, I have played under some great managers and with lads like Kevin Cassidy, Rory Kavanagh, Colm McFadden and Karl Lacey, who were all big leaders for us and I learned a lot from them.

“There are five or six other lads who could easily be captain, so I was just lucky.

“We have loads of leaders and there are lads speaking this year that I have never heard speaking before which is a great sign”.

Last year was a pretty traumatic one for McBrearty and Donegal so is there a bit of extra motivation to put things right this year?

“This is a new team and there are quite a few lads who could be making their debut in the League on Sunday.

“There is fresh feeling and we have new management and it is an opportunity for us to get two points on Sunday which is what we are focused on.

“Training has gone really well and there is a fresh hunger out there, so we are really looking forward to getting back into action.''