THERE WILL BE no shortage of Dax Wax and Brylcreem on display in NUI Maynooth this week — it is Freshers’ Week after all — but one man who will be steering well clear of the assorted hair gunk, late night revelry and hungover mornings is Donegal star Paddy McBrearty.
When all is said and done and Sam Maguire goes home for the winter to the hills of Donegal or out west wrapped in the green and red of Mayo, 19-year-old McBrearty will get a taste of college living as he belatedly knuckles down to begin his Arts degree in geography and history.
It is said that the college days are the best of your life, but standing on the brink of Sunday’s All-Ireland football final, the Kilcar teen has plenty of reason to disagree. Ambitious and driven, he was a rare youngster for whom partying always came a distant second.
Now, with two Ulster championship medals, the experience of two All-Ireland semi-finals and a shot at Sam still to come before he turns 20 next summer, does he feel like he has missed out?
Don’t be silly.
“This is exactly where I want to be,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to be going out. I’d rather be doing this here than going for a night out to a pub or a nightclub. This is my life, what I have been doing since I was 10 or 11. I feel this is what I’m into.
This has always been part of the plan. When I was 14, 15, boys might be out drinking or whatever. But when I was on my first night out, one of my mates said ‘Just take a drink’, and I said I had things on my mind. I wanted to be one of the best footballers in Ireland, I said at the time. Hopefully I am on that track.
It’s not a journey McBrearty has travelled alone and he is quick to pay tribute to parents who have been there for him every step of the way: during his soccer days and trials with Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic; during his meteoric rise through Donegal’s underage ranks into Jim McGuinness’s senior panel at the age of 17; during the agony of last summer’s near-miss against Dublin in the semi-finals.
“My mum and dad played a massive role in everything I’ve ever done,” McBrearty says. “I don’t think they have missed a game in the last four years. They even went to Spain to watch me play soccer.”
And that burning ambition shines through again: “It’s just something that I have always been interested in. I want to see myself on the walls, [have] people talk about me in 50, 60 years time.”
He’s quick to credit McGuinness too for the part he has played in nurturing and developing a once-raw talent. If it wasn’t for Big Jim he’d be still be spending a fortune on red Dax, he laughs, recalling how it was the manager who persuaded him to stop using copious amounts of hair wax on his hands for grip during matches and invest in a pair of gloves instead.
Sometimes I still do that on a warm day. I never wore gloves and Jim was onto me. ‘You’re wearing gloves the next day. Don’t turn up in Breffni Park without gloves.’ I keep the red Dax only for the nights out now and wear the Murphy’s Gloves.
He adds: “To work with a man like Jim McGuinness has been an unbelievable experience from day one — 15th May last year to now, it’s been a roller-coaster ride and long may it continue.”