McGinley is Euro’s own

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

LAST Tuesday evening Mick McGinley arrived home in Rathfarnham with a beaming smile etched across his face.

LAST Tuesday evening Mick McGinley arrived home in Rathfarnham with a beaming smile etched across his face.

As Mick McGinley walked into the house, his wife Julia and daughters Mary, Karen and Suzanne waited nervously on developments, which had yet to filter through. Since there was nothing concrete they went against the grain of the well-versed saying and presumed no news wasn’t good news.

Mick McGinley casually took off his overcoat and put it under the stairs before turning to his wife and saying: “I’d love a kiss from the mother of the new Ryder Cup captain.”

Excitement immediately filled and room and after the tears and the hugs, the champagne flowed. It was a special moment for the family, one that will see their son and brother take up perhaps the most honourable role in golf next September.

“I had been in contact with Michael, who works in Dubai, throughout the day,” Mick McGinley says of Tuesday last. “On my way home, Michael had called and said ‘Paul had just been called into the room and I will call you back as soon as I hear.’ Then, about 30 seconds later, Michael called again and said Paul had just be given ‘the green light.’

“We are very happy for Paul in particular. Nothing ever comes easy for him. There were a lot of PR campaigns going around that made it that more difficult and Colin Montgomerie staked a claim late in the day.”

A two-time Ryder Cup vice-captain and twice the winning captain of the European team in the Vivendi Seve Trophy, Paul McGinley was tipped to succeed José María Olazábal after the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ in September.

And despite a late challenge or two, the Dubliner will be Ireland’s first ever captain when the Ryder Cup rolls into Gleneagles in Scotland a year this September. He’s a popular choice.

“I knew what was going on from the inside and there was a lot of support from last year’s Ryder Cup team,” Mick McGinley adds. “That was very reassuring. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald went on the record in their support and even behind the scenes, Ian Poulter was extremely positive about Paul.”

The person most qualified to tell the tale of how Paul McGinley has made the journey to, as American captain Tom Watson says, “sharing the stage” at one of sport’s most infectious event are his parents, Mick and Julia.

Mick, a native of Dunfanaghy, shares his two sporting loves with his son, Gaelic football and golf. Mick grew up one of Barney and Mary’s five children and the family lived on Dunfanghy’s Main Street.

To earn a shilling Barney would take a horse and cart off to the surrounding areas, selling groceries before later graduating to a van that did the same rounds in a fraction of the time.

After Barney died when Mick was only six, the business was centralised to a shop under the family name in Dunfanaghy town, which sold all kinds of everything.

“I spent my younger days on the golf course at Dunfanaghy, caddying first of all with Sean Ferriter to make a few bob,” Mick McGinley says of life in Donegal. “When there was nothing doing with caddying we either played golf or played football on the course - so the two things came together.”

The parish of Doe had a long-running GAA club but there was nothing in Dunfanaghy until the likes of the local sergeant Morgan Ferriter, Reverend James Deeney, Colm O’Donnell and Mickey McFadden founded St Michael’s in 1952. McGinley, at that time, was attending St Eunan’s College in Letterkenny, where he was taught by Cavan All-Ireland winner John Wilson.

“We had a very good team at St Eunan’s and in 1956 we were the first team from the school to ever win the Rannafast Cup, as well as winning the Ulster minor championship with Donegal,” McGinley recalls. “That was the start of Donegal making a name for themselves in Ulster because before that we were always getting hammered.”

However, following that 2-5 to 0-6 win over Armagh in Clones, Donegal, minus the suspended players who had been found guilty of breaking Rule 27, or “the ban” after been caught playing soccer, lost the All-Ireland semi-final against Connacht champions Leitrim.

A year later Donegal lost to Armagh in the Ulster minor final before McGinley spent three seasons between 1959 and 1961 on the Donegal seniors, alongside the likes of his friend Ferriter and John Hannigan.

At the time Mick McGinley was a six-handicap golfer, his time on the links in Dunfanaghy had served him well, although it was joked by Donegal’s players that he and Ferriter “must’ve been posh,” playing a sport considered elitist.

However, in 1961, McGinley was finding work hard to come by at home so he joined the British Merchant Navy and his footballing days with Donegal were over.

He would, though, go onto become a one-handicapper and played senior championships in Ireland as well as the amateur championships in Spain and Portugal.

Paul’s mother and Mick’s wife, Julia Sheridan from Rathmullan, is also from a golfing background. Even now, she’s the Lady President at Dunfanaghy Golf Club having previously been captain.

“My dad Tom used to own a garage in Rathmullan and my uncle James, who was a doctor in Buncrana, was a scratch golfer so it ran in the family,” she says, whilst adding her own inabilities to play a Sunday morning round yesterday could be blamed on the weatherman.

“They all played in Otway and even my aunt, Annie Strain, who died just a couple of years ago in Kilmacrennan aged 100, would’ve played in the long skirts. We’ve still the photos down in the house. It wasn’t really the done thing in those days but they did it anyway.”

When Mick and Julia started a family, Paul was the eldest of their five children. In his younger days, he loved the camaraderie of team sports although he would spend more and more time on the local Grange course.

“I used to play in things like the South of Ireland Championships and I used to take Paul with me to caddy, when he was about 11 or 12 years old,” Mick McGinley continues. “He did have a love for golf and Gaelic football. His first club was St Michael’s when he was 12 or so and then he joined up with Ballyboden St Enda’s in Stillorgan.”

Having made his Gaelic football club senior debut at just 16, Paul McGinley played for Dublin and through minor onto U-21 level with players like the late Jim Stynes.

However, was forced to hang up his boots when he broke a kneecap playing hurling aged just 19. It’s an injury that has been operated on repeatedly since, something his father admitted might’ve held him back as a golfer.

“I actually took Paul to Donegal for a trial for the county minors once,” Mick McGinley says. “I wanted him to follow in my footsteps and Paul had started off with St Michael’s. I remember us landing in Ballybofey. It was an early summer’s evening but there was no trial.

“The elections were on instead and the first man I met that evening was Johnny Wilson, my old teacher in St Eunan’s who was by then a politician. I told him as he was out canvassing my young lad was up for a minor trial and Johnny was delighted but unfortunately it never happened. It was a pity because Paul was an excellent footballer.”

Paul McGinley only slowly developed into golf. At 17, he played off seven, whilst studying at the College of Marketing before finding work experience in the environment department in Brussels with the European Economic Community, playing as much golf as possible in his spare time and becoming fluent in French.

Whilst in Belgium, McGinley befriended a man from Gartan with Glaswegian parents named Eamonn Gallagher, who was a senior official within the EEC.

“They struck it up straight away,” Mick McGinley says of the relationship his son established with Gallagher, who sadly passed away in 2009. “Paul got on the Irish U-21 side and won the Irish Close and South of Ireland Championships and the Scottish Stroke Play.”

Paul McGinley had unsuccessfully written to every university of a golfing persuasion in the United States for a scholarship but Gallagher had connections. The University of San Diego would take him on board, provided he paid his own first year fees, roughly £8,000 and would assess him over the year before deciding whether to fund the rest.

“Paul didn’t get a scholarship but he got a grant of £5,000 from the Team Ireland Trust through Pádraig Ó hUiginn and I was the guarantor for another £6,000, which he loaned from the Bank of Ireland.

“When they saw how good he was, Paul did four years in San Diego and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in International Marketing.”

At 26, Paul McGinley turned pro and finally broke through in the Hohe Brucke Open in Austria and the Oki Pro-am in Spain in 1996 before teaming up with Pádraig Harrington to capture the World Cup for Ireland at Kiawah Island in 1997.

He also won the Wales Open at Celtic Manor in 2001 while his greatest individual success came in the prestigious season ending Volvo Masters at Valderama in 2005 and he, famously, sank the winning putt for Europe at the Belfry in 2002. Now, he’s in an even bigger place.

“Paul will be up in Donegal at Easter and the appointments are stacking up already,” Mick says of his son’s next trip to Donegal, one that promises to be busy.

“We are in the area a lot and Paul is always really comfortable in Dunfanaghy as he is left to his own devices on the course and can mosey around without getting bothered,” Julia McGinley adds.

“He can play a bit of golf and have a bit of fun in the clubhouse afterwards. I remember him playing there when he was young but I would have never thought it would lead him to being the Ryder Cup captain. It’s hard to believe.”

Paul McGinley, as his father admitted, never had things that came easy for him. But he wasn’t born as one of those being willing to be led, he was born to lead.