The life of a corner back can be a lonely existence, but in the modern game it has changed considerably as they charge forward at every opportunity and Donegal’s No. 2 Paddy McGrath is no different.
It is nothing new for Donegal though. Back in the 1990s Barry McGowan and Noel Hegarty were role models for what has now become the accepted norm.
Paddy McGrath fits both bills. His stature with a low centre of gravity makes him almost tailormade for the No. 2 jersey, yet his speed off the mark to support his colleagues this year has been phenomenal. Sometimes he is breaking so quick that he has to wait for his colleagues to catch up.
Like most of the players in the Donegal panel, Paddy McGrath has improved year on year under Jim McGuinness and the confidence gained is being put to good use.
Also like the rest of the panel, he is comfortable talking about big games, underlining the overall improvement under the manager. He is also fiercely determined to add more success.
“We’re training hard this weather, building towards the final. It’s great to be there again this year; it’s a big achievement for us. It’s not going to be easy but we’re glad to be there for a second year in-a-row,” says Paddy.
The Ardara man deflects any notion that he is at a different level to anyone else. “I wouldn’t say I’m the fittest on the panel,” and he immediately wants to concentrate on the team ethic.
“The expectations have been upped. We had to up the ante. Last year we won (Ulster) so we knew that teams would be wanting to have a crack at us.
“You can never rely on what have done. You have to always strive to get better. You can never dwell on last year,” he says.
But getting back to difficulty of being a corner back, Paddy opens up a little more.
“It’s never easy, no matter who you mark at corner back. But then again you have the boys around you, fellas on the team always giving me support and they will be telling me, giving me advice and I try to take it all in.
“Every day you go out it’s a different opponent and it is always going to be tough.”
But what if he is a range forward who is 6’4’’.
“I’d try my hand at anything but if they were 6’4’’ they wouldn’t suit me too well. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. You have good footballers around you who are always willing to help you out at well.”
And there is the chance that you could be isolated with a nippy corner forward?
“It’s the joys of being a corner back. It’s something you have to get on with. You have to think you are going to win it first. All corner backs are like that, to win it first, to get a hand in. And if you don’t you have to try and get back and stop him scoring. You don’t want the corner forward getting his hands on the ball.
“When you have played more games you do get more confident and settled but it is something you don’t think about going on to the field,” says Paddy.
With Donegal adding more to their game, the Ardara man has no qualms about putting it down to the work being done by new manager Jim McGuinness.
“Last year was our first under Jim (McGuinness) and we did well. Take a look at Dublin, it took them four years to get there.
“It’s a credit to him what he has achieved,” he says of McGuinness.
The local intense rivalry is put aside and Paddy doesn’t look on his manager as a Glenties man.
“That’s it. You have to listen to him. I don’t see him as a Glenties man now. He’s as good as a St. Michael’s man now,” he quips.
“When you’re playing club, you play club and there’s rivalry there and it always will be there and that’s healthy. But come county, you’re pulling on the same jersey as your teammates.”
Nothing can be achieved without putting in the effort and Paddy feels that Donegal are no different to other teams who are striving for success.
“It’s a high standard of preparation but every team is doing it. It’s all about putting the head down and putting in the effort.”
Sunday’s Ulster final meeting with Down brings back some memories for the Ardara man, who got his first start against the Mourne men when the sides last met in the championship in Ballybofey in 2010.
“I came on that day in extra time. It was my debut. Obviously it wasn’t a great day.
“Down have a great team. People are saying we have a good chance, but it really is just 50/50. Through the years Down have proved to be a good side.”
Sunday’s opponents also have a corner forward who has been making the headlines in recent weeks with man of the match performances against Fermanagh and Monaghan. The diminutive Conor Laverty could well be Paddy McGrath’s direct opponent on Sunday next, but the Ardara man sidesteps the question.
“It’s not my call and I’ll do what I’m asked.”
When put to him that Laverty would be the right match and height for him, he answers: “I’ll let you decide that. Any opponent is going to be tough and he is a good player.”
Again and again he deflects from the individual on to the team, which says much for what Donegal are thinking. “Our team has improved a lot since last year. Being in Division One was a great help. We did have a good year last but we knew teams would want to match us.”
You can determine from talking to McGrath that there is a huge enjoyment being taken from the involvement, even though it can be a very lonely place at times too.
“It can be tough on family and friends, but they understand that too. And the support you get from family, girlfriend, wife, whatever, they’re behind you 100%. It’s all about commitment but at the end of the day, if you can lift the Anglo Celt, it is worth it.
“It’s something you will take with you to the grave.
“Winning back to back Ulster titles would be great but you cannot take anything for granted. Down are a good side and it’s going to be tough. It was like that against Tyrone and you need a wee bit of luck on your side as well,” concludes McGrath.