Brendan Crossan: The before and after and Patrick McBride's resilient spirit

Patrick McBride (right) celebrates after Antrim beat Cavan last month Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Patrick McBride (right) celebrates after Antrim beat Cavan last month Picture: Seamus Loughran.

I’VE been doing this job for 24 years and counting. Like life in general, the best part about it is the people you meet along the way. In GAA circles,

I’ve met a seriously disproportionate amount of good people. From all different counties.

Patrick McBride of Antrim is up there with the best of them.

I remember his brother-in-law Gearoid Adams telling me about Patrick before he made his Ulster Championship debut against Monaghan at Casement Park in 2013, and how he believed he'd be a mainstay of Antrim teams for years to come.

He wasn't wrong.

Without doubt, he's been one of the best players in Antrim over the last decade, a period where there have been more bad days than good.

I can’t remember the first time I interviewed him, but he always struck me as a young man with impeccable manners and a great sense of fun.

He was one of those guys you'd speak to and come away feeling completely energised for it.

For a few years, there was no better double-act on the inter-county circuit than Patrick and his St John’s club-mate Matthew Fitzpatrick.

As Gaelic football began to lose the run of itself, becoming far too serious for its own good, Patrick and ‘Fitzy’ were always the perfect antidote. It didn't make them any less competitive or ambitious. I always felt they'd struck the right balance.

If Antrim were hosting a Championship press night, you'd make a bee-line for the pair of them - not really for interviewing purposes but to chew the fat and have a laugh.

For them, the game-faces could always wait until match-day.

In the early throes of the COVID pandemic, the Irish News sports department had the daunting task of filling 16 pages with no sport happening. You could safely say the sports team were in a bit of a quandary during COVID.

Every. Single. Day.

So, my colleagues and I had to be creative and come up with ideas that would retain the readers’ interest. In the glaring absence of sport!

One idea was to do a lockdown digest with some GAA players; how they were putting their time in with no training or matches and in some cases no work to go to.

Matt Fitzpatrick and Patrick McBride, both school-teachers, were the first two I signed up.

Asked what his daily routine was during lockdown, 'Fitzy' said: “Do some online teaching through google classroom. Use the afternoon to get some training done and then play the PlayStation all night. My girlfriend likes to remind me every day that most 25-year-olds don’t spend their day shouting at a computer but she’s never been sent to the Gulag.”

One of Patrick’s questions was: Tell us something we don’t know about you.

“‘Fitzy’ and me were driving to training one morning and we were starving. Our mate just opened a new breakfast place. We discussed it and decided to pull over on the motorway. Take a few photos of him looking in the car bonnet, send the photo into the management and say the car broke down. So we went for a fry instead. He ditched us to play soccer so I am sinking him here - it was all his idea!”

Matthew Fitzpatrick pretends his car is broken down in a lockdown confession revealed by his club-mate Patrick McBride
Matthew Fitzpatrick pretends his car is broken down in a lockdown confession revealed by his club-mate Patrick McBride

A few weeks before this season’s National League began, I interviewed Patrick and rather than talk about Antrim’s prospects, we went off on a tangent and discussed his football career.

For all the quips and the mandatory mocking sessions of ‘Fitzy’, who rolled the dice and is now enjoying a successful Irish League career with Glenavon, Patrick is a deep thinker of the game.

We pulled the lens back and he explained how Dr Ciaran Kearney helped him fall in love with Gaelic football again.

For a couple of seasons, he was feeling under pressure and not enjoying playing for Antrim as much as he should have.

Together, Patrick and Ciaran stripped everything back.

Patrick explained: “One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever got was, act like it’s a kid’s game, where you just feel like a kid again, just go out and play. That was Ciaran Kearney.”

Ciaran asked Patrick to bring him back to a point in his life where he just loved Gaelic football for what it was.

“I picked a May Day tournament when I was in P5. So Ciaran said: ‘So why don’t you treat this game like that May Day tournament.’”

That following Sunday, he kicked seven points for Antrim against Limerick in Portglenone, arguably his best performance in a saffron jersey.

The next time I was in contact, earlier this year, he’d suffered a broken hand but was saying he’d be back as soon as the plaster was removed.

The time after that was to express my condolences following the sudden death and unfathomable loss of his sister Marie.

Sometimes our lives become framed by tragic events: the before and after.

I saw Patrick in the Jordanstown foyer a couple of weeks ago. Beaming smile, he waved over as he made his way out to training with his Antrim team-mates.

He looked like a young fella, in the prime of his youth, with not a care in the world.

The St John’s man has never had any airs or graces about him. He’s an open book.

In a BBC podcast with Thomas Niblock and Oisin McConville earlier this week, he spoke about coping with the loss of Marie and just how much he admires his mother for the resilience she’s shown throughout their lives.

You would like to think some of that DNA has been passed down to Patrick. He was eloquence itself on the podcast and deserves so much praise for speaking openly about his sister’s sudden death.

And by doing so, there might be someone listening who might’ve experienced a similar devastating loss and feels a small bit liberated by Patrick’s sheer candidness.

Since he’s got back onto the field, Patrick McBride is playing with unbelievable freedom for Antrim.

Being that P5 kid again must be good for the soul.

Just like any conversation I’ve had with him: he’s good for the soul too.