Paddy McBrearty at the launch of the AIB GAA Club Championships this week.
Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE
“WELL, I THINK 23 years is too long for Kilcar to not even be in a final, never mind win one,” declares Patrick McBrearty firmly.
The Donegal talisman is speaking a few days out from county senior final day, a game where Kilcar’s long and exhausting wait to be part of the marquee club football occasion in the North-West, will come to an end.
McBrearty has stockpiled a collection of accolades at inter-county level, sampling All-Ireland and Ulster senior success. In July he delivered a career best display in shooting the lights out against Cork and amassing 0-11.
Patrick McBrearty in action against Cork in July
Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO
But at club level, it has been different. McBrearty was born in August 1993. That same year Kilcar reached the Donegal county senior final. They won that decider by 0-12 to 0-10 and having local rivals Killybegs in the opposition corner made the victory all the sweeter.
It was their fourth title in 14 seasons and they had also reached another three finals where they fell short. Between 1985 and 1989, Kilcar contested four deciders. They were perennial challengers, a heavyweight on the Donegal football scene.
It was a golden era for the club but after 1993 that spell screeched to a halt. There’s been plenty frustration in the intervening 23 years until they achieved a final berth by blitzing Naomh Conaill with five goals to triumph in the Donegal semi-final earlier this month.
“There’s a lot of hype about Kilcar,” admits McBrearty.
“I think that has been the situation for Kilcar for the last six years, everyone has been expecting us to win it. I suppose with every year which passes that you don’t win it, there is added pressure.
“It is not easy playing for Kilcar and Donegal because over the last few years, there have been a few years there where it has been tough.”
Having a bunch of inter-county players in the Kilcar ranks has added to that weight of expectation. McBrearty is joined by his brother Stephen, an addition to the Donegal senior panel this year and a player who made such an impression on Donegal’s route to the 2014 All-Ireland minor final.
Then there are the McHughs. Brothers Ryan and Mark, and their cousin Eoin, were all on the pitch when Donegal’s All-Ireland adventure ended at the hands of Dublin in August. It’s a wealth of talent for Kilcar to possess but it has taken time to properly blossom.
“The core of the team is still very young, 23/24 is the average age of the team,” remarks Patrick.
“Everyone is a year older, Eoin has played for Donegal for a season, my brother Stephen was called up to the county panel.
“I just think the team has more maturity all round and I think that is a big plus. Definitely people perceived Kilcar with being small and probably still do.
“We probably were too small in areas. We got a strength and conditioning coach in and we got a few lads bulked up which I think helped a lot. We just go out and try and play football every day.
“There are a lot of guys there from 25 down who have won a lot, through minors and U21’s.
“I think you get used to winning and we had the hunger to win more but for everyone on the team this is their first county final, so there is a real buzz around the town.”
There is a youthful core but they have experience guiding them. Michael Hegarty, a veteran of several campaigns with Donegal, will be on the pitch. While on the sideline there is Martin and James McHugh, the Donegal stars from the glory of 1992 and the embodiment of that rich era for their club.
Source: Matthew Browne/Inpho
These are the figures McBrearty looked up to.
“Martin has been great. He has been there, he has done that, he has won an All-Ireland with Donegal and he won four county titles as a player with Kilcar so there is a lot of respect for him within the dressing room.
“He has brought more knowledge and confidence to the team as well. His brother James is there too and that has been a big boost as well.
“Mickey was a great servant to Donegal for a number of years and if you were at any of our games this year, you could see that he has still plenty left in the tank. He is still a massive player for Kilcar.”
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
So Kilcar provide the novelty and charm in this narrative. The hurdle they must overcome is formidable though. Glenswilly have the experience of appearances in three of the last five finals with title wins in 2011 and 2013.
Three years ago they went all the way to the Ulster club final before losing to Ballinderry. They have a midfield powerhouse in Neil Gallagher. And they have the Donegal championship sponsor and captain and leading light in Michael Murphy.
“The size of him is even intimidating,” laughs McBrearty.
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
“But yeah, he’s definitely going to need watching now. He’s one of the top forwards in the game so it’s about how we can control him and control Neil.
“They have a lot of boys there that have played inter-county football that other teams probably forget about. That’s why they have been so successful. Players like Gary McFadden and Ciaran Bonner definitely need watching.”
Still Kilcar are there and the prospect of ending that long drought is tantalising.
Kilcar manager Martin McHugh
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“It would be up there with the All-Ireland in 2012 definitely,” admits McBrearty.
“Kilcar has 900 people or whatever living in it and football is the only thing there, so there’s a great buzz around.
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