DONEGAL goalkeeper Shaun Patton insists his team’s focus is completely on Cavan and the Ulster final this weekend.
GAA folk love nothing more than allowing the mind to wander during the championship.
Supporters and pundits alike have been getting carried away this week discussing how Donegal will cope with Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.
‘Are the Dubs vulnerable this year?’
‘They’re not the same team without Jim Gavin.’
‘An empty Hill 16 could be a leveller.’
All those sentiments may be true, and yet we will never know if Dublin and Donegal don’t come through their respective provincial finals this week.
The Dubs are due to take on Meath on Saturday evening and Patton insists they are not on his team’s radar yet.
All that is pressing Donegal at the moment is the Ulster final showdown with Cavan, who have been impressing the Letterkenny native.
“At the minute, they (Dublin) are not anywhere in sight.
“We have a massive game against Cavan next weekend. With the two comebacks that Cavan have had over the Ulster campaign so far, they have an absolutely unbelievable resilience about them and such spirit within the camp.
“For us in the panel, we won’t be looking past the Ulster final because it is a massive day.
“Cavan obviously take great pride in their football, no different to ourselves. All our focus now is on the game on Sunday.”
Declan Bonner has had a habit during his managerial career of getting players to switch codes and to give GAA matters the priority over soccer. Patton is another player who has gone down that route.
He played GAA at underage level for St Eunan’s but stopped at u-12 as he began to hone in on soccer.
There were trials in England, and a League of Ireland debut at 16 years of age for Finn Harps.
He also enjoyed spells with Derry City and Sligo Rovers and was making progress, even if some bad luck with injuries had made things challenging.
However, when Bonner came calling, he didn’t require a huge amount of persuasion.
Patton has worked hard with the goalkeeping coach Andrew McGovern, and learned from the other goalkeepers he has worked with in Mark Anthony McGinley, Peter Boyle, Michael Lynch, and perhaps most notably, two-time All-Star Paul Durcan.
“Once I got the chance to start playing and got a bit of coaching it was fantastic, but working hard with the coaches is the main thing, and bouncing ideas off them and trying to get information out of people you are training with.
“’Papa’ (Durcan) was in with us and I was bouncing ideas off him and trying to drain as much information out of him as possible because when you’re training with a fella who has been there and done it all, it’s great to get a few pointers from him.”
Like Durcan in his pomp, Patton is now firmly recognised as one of the best goalkeepers in the land.
Kick-outs have become such a massive part of the game, and the net-minder is now a launchpad for his team.
Few number ones can boast the length and range of Patton’s kicks.
The Letterkenny man says it isn’t simply something you’re born with and feels his kicking can still improve.
Patton uses a green ball – a heavier football than the normal size 5 from O’Neill’s – in training which helps to improve a goalkeeper’s distance, and he is keen to learn and look at innovative ways to ensure his team retain possession.
“You train, and you train, and you train, and at the end of the day all you want to do is improve.
“That kick can go very wrong sometimes and it can work out sometimes.
“It’s just about working as hard as you can to improve. I’ve worked on my kicking the whole way through my life.
“Growing up it was always something I wanted to be good at and wanted to keep working on.
“Luckily when I was younger and playing soccer, there was a goalkeeping coach that came in and really emphasised on kicking techniques and stuff, and working with him improved me massively.
“Taking the work he gave me has been a big part of my kicking since.”
A victory on Sunday would make it a hat-trick of Ulster medals for Patton. It would also be the first time the county have won three successive championships.
It would be a significant achievement but Patton says the team will treat it like any other match.
“To win three in-a-row would be brilliant.
“But at the end of the day, it’s only another Ulster final that we have managed to get ourselves in.
“We got to this position in 2013 and we didn’t get over the line so our only focus is to go in with a good mentality this week and hit the training pitch hard and get ourselves right for Sunday.
“We want to be as ready as we can be and put in a performance and hopefully we will get over the line but it’s not going to be an easy week or an easy game on Sunday.”