When Seamus and Carol McBrearty decided to re-locate back from Dublin to Donegal it was a good decision for Donegal GAA with their two sons now playing prominent roles at senior and minor level.
Seamus, better known as ‘Super’ among the GAA world in south-west Donegal, was a very good centre-forward for Kilcar during the 1970s and 1980s.
He was part of an historic U-21 team that lifted three Donegal championships in-a-row in the mid-1970s and was also part of the Kilcar senior team that won a Dr. Maguire Cup in 1985.
But when he married and settled in Dublin, the link to Kilcar was temporarily broken.
Married to Carol, who also has a strong GAA background (her cousin being former Dublin star and current St. Vincent’s manager Tommy Conroy), the union brought two strong sons, both born in Dublin.
On Sunday next it could easily have been Sky Blue jerseys that the McBreartys were donning as they skip out onto Croke Park, but thankfully the McBrearty clan returned to Kilcar and, as they say, the rest is history.
Patrick, who turned 21 just a few weeks ago, will line out with the Donegal seniors, while 18-year-old Stephen will be named at corner-forward for the minors but is likely to fulfil a roving role.
Patrick’s career, even at just 21 years of age, is dotted with a long list of achievements - three Ulster senior championship medals; an All-Ireland senior medal as well as various awards at club and schools level, including captaining Kilcar to the U-21 title last year.
His star was rising from a very young age with Australian scouts tracking him but a visit to his house by Jim McGuinness before he reached his 18th birthday saw him play senior and minor for Donegal on the same day in 2011. He joined a very elite group who had achieved this.
Since then he has been an ever present, participating in every championship game under Jim McGuinness.
His younger brother, Stephen, is following a similar path, having already done something big brother did not achieve, winning an Ulster Minor Championship medal.
Stephen played minor as a 16-year old in 2012 but then was hit with a cruciate injury which ruled him out of football for over a year, only returning in the spring of this year.
Stephen is a different type of player to Patrick and is likely to be seen further from goal, probably as a centre half-back or midfielder on future Donegal senior teams.
When the McBreartys returned to Donegal they came under the guidance of the coaches in Kilcar and foremost among those was Neilly Byrne, who quietly nurturs talent both at club and at school level (Colaiste Na Carraige).
“I first encountered Patrick when he arrived in the National School in Kilcar. He was after coming back from Dublin. From the start he was an exceptional player.
“I encountered Stephen for the first time in the National School as well. It was the first time I met them,” said Neilly.
“Both of them had that excellent ability at underage. They were big and were strong for their age and they were very, very good pupils to coach. They had all the skills and when you look at it, they had from both sides, from their mother and their father. Seamus was a bit underated, more than anything, but he was still an excellent player at both Gaelic and soccer.
“And their uncle, Gerard, was an exceptional forward. He was second top scorer to (Martin) McHugh in many of the championships. So they had that potential from the very word go.
“They were leaders as well. You got the ball to them and they could the rest,” said Neilly.
“They were exceptionally good lads to coach, because they were really, really interested in it. They always had a ball in their hands; they were always practising, even on their own.
“The likes of Gabriel Meehan has to be complemented on the work he put in at the National School and give the time to do this and again in the Tech when Padraic O Leime did the same to allow them to develop their skills,” said Neilly, who agreed that the boys did not gain much success with the club at underage level.
“They featured in the odd competition, but mainly playing out of the B competition. In the U-16B when Patrick was playing, we won that competition. We got beat another year by MacCumhaill’s in the final and Patrick scored 1-10 or 1-11 out of 1-12 or 1-3 that day. He still ended up on the losing side, which was unbelievable,” said Neilly.
Stephen, also always had the makings of a very good footballer. We won the seven-a-side National Schools competition and that was really the start of it. That was all they won until they went to minor level.
“At schools level, they joined up with players from Glencolmcille and that also brought them on. It gave them a great insight into football and then they were playing schools from Ulster and it brought them on as they were playing against better players.”
Asked how to define them as footballers, Neilly agreed that they were different types of players.
“Both of them, maybe, have the same skills. Both are good finishers and Stephen, you might be inclined to play him further from goal than Patrick. Stephen might work back, while Patrick is an out and out forward, loves to go forward rather than track back. I’m not being critical of him; that’s his nature.
“Stephen would be more of a centre half-forward or midfield player where he gets up a head of steam and runs at teams and is very, very strong and hard to mark.
“Both are exceptional fielders of the ball. Patrick is very good under the ball, close to goal. It will take a very good man to mark him or break the ball away from him. He has a lethal left foot.”
Asked if he ever did much coaching on getting Patrick to use his right boot, Neilly laughs: “We did, but he still tends to go on his left foot rather than cut inside. But at the moment he is linking very well with Ryan McHugh at county level. They had a great understanding at underage level in Kilcar. They linked up very well in the Ulster final and if you can get Patrick on the ball on the run, he is very, very strong and very accurate,” said Neilly.
“They have a very good attitude. Even on nights that they are not training with the county, they are over in Towney kicking with the lads. They have that interest in it. They are keen to do well and whatever they get out of it, the best of luck to them.
“It’s fantastic for themselves, for their parents and for the club.
“It’s great to see the two of them now getting the chance to play in Croke Park on Sunday and the best of luck to them,” said Neilly, who agreed that everyone involved with the boys at all stages of their development will take a little ownership of their achievements.
“We would all like to think we did a wee bit with them, but you can only advise fellas and train them, but then it’s down to themselves. When you look at the present minute, you cannot do it for them. At the end of the it is down to the player. He has to be willing to give the commitment; he has to learn and listen and when that happens and it falls for them, they get the reward and it’s fantastic for them,” said Neilly.
At adult level, the McBrearty brothers came under the spotlight of John McNulty, who first encountered them at minor level and later at U-21 and senior level.
“I first encountered Patrick when we won the minor championship in 2010. Their return from Dublin was a big boost to the club, two quality players. They are up there with the best in the county if not the country. They both have the potential to be the best in the country,” said McNulty.
“They both have that physical size and also shooting prowess.”
Asked the same question about Patrick’s reliance on his left, John said: “No one knows better than Patrick himself in trying to develop the right. When at underage you are so powerful, it makes you a bit lazier, but he is seeing the benefit of working on it and he continues to do that now.
“Patrick has a great natural talent. It is a great gift. I’ll always remember the minor final of 2010 against Cloughaneely. It was all level and Ryan McHugh got fouled out on the left hand side, 50 yards out. It was injury time and Patrick took the kick. Up it went in the air, it seemed to be there for ages, but it went over the bar. From the kick-out the final whistle went. It was a pressure kick,” said McNulty
“At underage, he was the go-to man. His running power was exceptional and he was comfortable carrying the ball,” said McNulty, who feels there is no question that Patrick could play out around midfield “if he put his mind to it.”
McNulty agrees that Stephen is a different type of character. “Stephen is good fun; he will throw in the odd comment. He is easy going in ways; unassuming would be the way to describe him.
“But on the field, it’s the same thing, his physical strength, good with the two feet, very accurate.
“He is a big player but one who will go with the flow,” said McNulty, who feels is easy going manner will make playing in Croke Park no big thing. “It will be like water off a duck’s back.”
McNulty cites the way that Stephen dealt with a serious cruciate injury as testimony to his dedication and interest in playing.
“The injury was an awful blow. He was out for almost a year. The way he handled himself coming back; he did everything right, disciplined and it showed how much he wanted to get back,” said McNulty.
“It’s a great occasion for the boys to be playing in Croke Park on the same day; great for them, their family and the club. It is an unusual thing to happen. I hope they both have a successful day,” said McNulty, and like any good club manager, he added: “I hope they are fully fit for the club championship when it begins!”
It is a special occasionfor the McBrearty family, for Kilcar and Donegal. The brothers will set their own little bit of history - something that might never be repeated, as they will always be known as the first brothers to play for two Donegal teams on All-Ireland semi-final day in Croke Park on the same day.
Let’s hope that they are preparing to set another record on Sunday evening next - the first brothers from Donegal to play in All-Ireland minor and senior finals on the same day.
Good luck from all of Donegal