McBrearty determined to continue Donegal’s domination over Armagh

By Shaun Casey

OF the last five championship meetings between this year’s Ulster finalists, Donegal have won 80 per cent of those games with their only loss to Armagh in the past decade coming in the most recent clash of 2022.

It’s fair to say that the Tir Chonaill have dictated the terms of the rivalry in recent times, but that wasn’t always the case. Growing up, Patrick McBrearty, like a lot of Donegal fans, had to endure plenty of hard days against Armagh.

The roles were completely reversed during the ‘noughties’ as the Orchard County defeated Donegal every year from 2002-2006 and chalked up four Ulster titles along the way as they dominated the province.

Donegal did earn an Ulster quarter-final draw with Joe Kernan’s men in 2005 but were hammered in the replay before a late Brendan Devenney goal (or Kevin Cassidy, depending on who you ask) finally got the orange and white monkey off their backs in 2007.

Michael Murphy spoke recently about how those bad days only helped to inspire and mould him into the footballer he became. Murphy was determined to change his counties fortunes and McBrearty followed a similar path.

“The Ulster finals used to be in Croke Park back then and I remember we were living in Dublin at the time, and wwould have went to support Donegal obviously, so we left Croke Park a lot of days with tears in my eyes with Donegal losing,” said the Donegal skipper.

“That was a great Armagh team, they obviously went on to win an All-Ireland and they dominated Ulster really until 2009.

“I remember those games a lot, Michael Hegarty from my own club was playing, Armagh would have had the upper hand in those games.

“I’ve always wanted to play for Donegal. We moved up from Dublin when I was 10 and I was just thrown straight into Kilcar, it was all about playing for Kilcar and hoping one day to play for Donegal.

“Luckily Jim (McGuinness) gave me the call when he did and there was no real negotiation, I jumped at the opportunity. Donegal hadn’t won an Ulster in 20 years and we’ve been lucky to go on and win a few and Donegal is a different place from when we started playing to where we are now.”

McGuinness helped to change all that. He altered the mindset and transformed Donegal from the nearly-men of Ulster into top contenders, both on the provincial scene and on the national stage.

Since lifting the Anglo Celt cup in 2011 for the first time in 20 years, Donegal have competed in 10 of the last 12 Ulster finals but haven’t been crowned kings of Ulster since 2019, which is something they are determined to change.

McBrearty, an All-Ireland winner with McGuinness in 2012 continued, “Listen, we haven’t won an Ulster Championship since 2019. I think this is our (11th in 14 years), we’ve won five of them, lost five of them. We’ve had great days in Clones, a lot of bad days in Clones.

“There’s a lot of lads there that are going for their third (Ulster medal), a lot of boys going for their fourth and then there’s a lot of lads going for their first. There are different motivations, but I think within the group there’s massive motivation to win another one.”

Donegal have certainly had to do it the hard way, seeing off Division One opposition in the form of top All-Ireland contenders Derry and Tyrone to reach the decider. McBrearty puts their fine form down to the “small margins” in games that have gone their way.

Reflecting on previous years that have gone against them, McBrearty, who has been a bit-part player so far in the championship having been hampered by injuries towards the end of the league, recalls those small margins.

“In 2015-16 there was a kick of a ball between us, Monaghan and Tyrone. In 2020, that day up in Armagh against Cavan was a bad one and then 2022 against Derry, we were two points up with three or four minutes to go in normal time.

“We felt we kicked it away that day in extra-time. There’s a lot of places you can pinpoint, but on the ultimate day you didn’t win the game. Small margins, it was the same against Tyrone (in the semi-final), it’s the small margins that ultimately wins the games.

“If Mark Curran doesn’t go up and knock the ball out of Niall Morgan’s hands, Tyrone probably win the game. It’s the small margins in big games that end up winning them.”

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