Mick McGrath, the new Donegal GAA chairman’s rise to the top job in the county, has been a long and winding road.
The Ballyshannon native can never be accused of climbing the ladder with mesmeric haste.
If ever a chairman has served his apprenticeship it is the Aodh Ruadh clubman, who is also the President of London club Tir Chonaill Gaels.
Mick McGrath played the game of hurling in that famous GAA nursery De La Salle, Ballyshannon and underage for Aodh Ruadh.
And he has officiated the game at the highest level and for much of the 1990s and the first half of the new millennium was the leading referee in Donegal.
For much of that time, too, he was high up the standings in refereeing at national level.
“I never played senior football for the club, just underage because I left home after the Leaving Certificate and emigrated to London,” explained Mick.
“I did play minor hurling and football for Donegal before I emigrated to London.”
Mick worked for a number of his early years in London in construction and later moved to the pub business and played adult football for Tir Chonaill Gaels.
But a knee injury early in his playing career forced him to pack in the game he loved in his early 20s.
“After I suffered the knee injury I fell into administration at Tir Chonaill Gaels. I had joined the club when I emigrated in 1971.”
Mick held a number of officer positions before rising to chairman and he also was the chairman of the London referees.
He had begun refereeing in London shortly after suffering the knee injury that ended his playing days.
But it was not until he returned home from London, in 1987, that he took up refereeing seriously.
He became the Aodh Ruadh club referee and also began to make waves in Ulster and beyond.
“I refereed my first game in Ulster in the minor league in 1989 and my first big game in Ulster was the minor final of 1990. It was between Derry and Down and don’t ask me who won.”
Mick graduated to the Ulster Senior Championship the following year and also made the national panel and began refereeing national league games.
He refereed games in the league and the senior championship for a number of years.
By the time he called time on his refereeing career he had refereed an All-Ireland U-21 championship final, three Ulster Club finals, an All-Ireland Vocational Schools’ final, six Donegal senior finals and two in London and a host of games in all four divisions in the National Football League.
“The biggest game of my career was the All-Ireland U-21 final of 2002. Galway and Dublin were the teams and Galway won it handy enough, from what I recall.
“The Vocational School final was between Kerry and Wicklow. That was in 1993 and the game was the curtain raiser to the drawn National League final meeting of Dublin and Donegal.
“I really enjoyed refereeing. I never got to referee an Ulster senior final because Donegal were doing well in Ulster at the time and they were in something like six Ulster finals in the course of my refereeing days.
“In my time I refereed 30 of the 32 counties as well as New York and London. The only counties that I did not referee were Carlow and Kilkenny, though I did referee, Carlow club Eire Og in an All-Ireland club semi-final.”
All during his refereeing days, Mick McGrath was deeply involved in Donegal football. And in that time he held a number of positions on the Donegal executive.
He was first elected to the Donegal executive as PRO in 1989 and over the next 27 years he served as development officer, two different spells on the Ulster Council, chairman of the Donegal referees’ committee and in more recent years as Children’s Officer/chairman of the minor board.
In this time, too, he managed to fit in a three-year term as Aodh Ruadh club chairman, 1996, ’97 and ‘98.
“The redevelopment of Sean MacCumhaill Park and bringing the ground up to standard was one of my main tasks during my time as development officer.
“My five years as Children’s Officer was one of my most enjoyable times on the executive. It was a time of great change in the GAA around the whole area of child protection and the implementing of new policies relating to children which I oversaw.
“The Children’s Officer was also responsible for the running of underage games in the county and it was also a great time of change in this area too.
“There was a lot of work done at underage level in the county at that time and I spearheaded that change.
“These changes were mainly on a more professional approach in preparing and training county teams and educating players on the correct lifestyle of an elite athlete.
“We made great strides on that front during that time and there is still room for improvement on a lot of fronts.
“But I do feel we have turned the corner and are on the right path. It is all about striving to be better and staying the pace with the leading counties so that we can be competitive into the future.”
Mick McGrath certainly has the experience at so many levels he may just be the man to lead the continued evolution of the GAA in Donegal.
There will be challenges. But Mick McGrath in his former roles was never a man to walk away from a challenge.