Paul Durcan is the number goalkeeper in the land, the last line in Donegal’s mean defence, and he has the All-Star from 2012 to prove it.
In an inter-county career that dates back to 2004, the Four Masters man has made a number of remarkable and important game-saving stops over those last nine seasons. Remember those heart-stopping moments in last year’s Ulster semi-final and his championship defining and instinctive foot save to deny Martin Penrose the freedom of Tyrone.
That was just one of many defining moments in the football career of Paul Durcan and the history of Donegal football.
In last year’s seven game championship run, including the final against Mayo, Paul Durcan and Donegal conceded a mere three goals.
One was against Cavan, in the preliminary round in Kingspan Breffni Park late on, when everybody but the team had gone home. Kerry in the All- Ireland quarter-final and Cork, in the semi-final, were the only others to breach the Donegal last line, in the whole of last summer.
And while they are only two games into the 2013 campaign all the signs look bright. Donegal have yet to concede a three pointer as the green flag has remained firmly stuck in the ground.
Durcan is quick to point to the fact that this is more down to the Donegal defence this season so far and the team as a whole than any heroics from himself.
“The boys are playing exceptionally well in front of me. Neil, Eamon and Paddy have been a rock all season. I think it is testament, too, to the work the boys are putting in out the field that I haven’t been called into action all that much in the two games to date,” said Paul modestly.
“The defensive and the defensive system is something we are constantly working on and thankfully it worked really well against Tyrone and Down. But I have to say again the three boys in the full-back line have been exceptional in the two games so far and long may it last.”
Like so many of his teammates the game against Tyrone was a big game and he insists could very well turn out to be the defining game in Donegal’s season and their bid for that historic third Ulster title.
“Looking back on the Tyrone game now and the draw, it was good for us and was the perfect draw.
“It was good for us to have Tyrone to focus on. And looking back on it now it was a blessing in disguise in ways that we drew them. It got us back down to earth after winning the All-Ireland and gave us something to focus on and got us back into training hard at the start of the year.
And then to go on and beat Tyrone and the manner in which the victory was achieved was a huge shot in the arm to Durcan and Donegal after a disappointing league campaign.
“We had a lot riding on the Tyrone game; we put a lot of emphasis on that game from day one and thankfully it went well for us and the win and the way we won it was just the boost we needed.”
Donegal supporters may have expected the semi-final meeting with Down, in Kingspan Breffni Park, to be stroll in the park for Donegal.
That is not how the Donegal number one saw it and he even admitted that he was mighty relieved when it was over that Donegal had won and they were back in another Ulster decider.
“Down were in an All-Ireland final three years ago against Cork and very nearly won it. They are a good side and we have lost to them in the championship in recent years too.
“They are an exceptional team with a number of exceptional forwards. They were a good challenge for us and we were just glad to come away with the win. They certainly asked questions of and, hopefully, that game will stand to us when we face Monaghan.”
What of Monaghan?
“Monaghan are a good team, they have shown that in the league. They won Division Three, beating Meath in the final.
“And they also have had a couple of good wins in the championship so far. We see them as a big challenge, but it is one we are looking forward to and it is one we are also ready for.
“When we sat and looked at the draw at the start of the year we knew if we got to an Ulster final, it was going to be a fairly exceptional achievement.
And to come away as winners now it would be a massive achievement but we also know that we face a huge challenge in Monaghan.”
The big Donegal Town man is also keeping his fingers crossed that his club colleague and four time All-Star Karl Lacey will win his race to be fit for Sunday’s showdown.
“It is good to have Karl back training again. It has been a tough and frustrating year for him so far. But he trained well during the week and it is fingers crossed that he doesn’t suffer any setback between now and Sunday.
“We all know how good a footballer he is and how important he is to the team and it is good to have him back and fit again.”
Despite all the hype and talk about the three in-a-row and all the history that goes with it Paul insists it is not something that he or his teammates chat much about.
All that, as far as Paul is concerned, is for the supporters and the historians and those who write about the game and he is adamant that it is not something that will get to the players.
“As far as I’m concerned it is just another Ulster final and it is something to look forward to. It is just the same as the first final three years ago. It is a huge game and a big day in any footballer’s career and we are looking forward to it and going out and performing to the best of our ability and hopefully coming away with the right result.”
Nor does it bother him all that much that Donegal, the reigning champions and winners of the last two championships, will once again enter Sunday’s final as firm favourites.
“It is something we have to live with and it is something we are learning to live with and at times it isn’t easy.
“But we just have to get on with it. We know we are going out against Monaghan, on their home patch, in an Ulster final and more than likely on a hot day and to be honest the favourites’ tag is not going to mean an awful lot.”
As far as the Donegal netminder is concerned it is all about performance and just getting it spot on once the ball is thrown-in.
He also feels that Donegal’s experiences of the last two seasons and all the big games they have played may well be the deciding factor.
“We are big enough and experienced enough to know that we are not going to get it easy. We haven’t beaten Monaghan the last few times we met them and we all know there will be nothing easy and it is going to take a right good performance if we are to win.”
Paul Durcan will play his 107th game for Donegal on Sunday, ironically, against Monaghan, the county he made his senior debut against way back in the National Football League of 2004.
Donegal won that game in Fr. Tierney Park, in Ballyshannon, by a single point, 3-6 to 1-11. The same would do nicely again on Sunday.
The Durcan file
1 - All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (2012)
2 - Ulster Senior Football Championships (2011, 2012)
2 - Dr. McKenna Cups (2009, 2010)
1 - National Football League Division 1 (2007)
1 - National Football League Division 2 (2011)
2 - Sigerson Cups (Sligo IT 2005, 2006)
1 - Donegal Senior Football Championship (2003)
1 - All Star (2012)
1 - Irish News Ulster All Star (2012)
1 - The Sunday Game Team of the Year (2012)