Donegal’s bitter Allianz League clash with Kerry last year was a one-off in terms of their rivalry, according to Paddy McBrearty, who admits he was lucky not to be among those sent off in Tralee.
Both teams finished with 14 players amid a chaotic mess of red, black, and yellow cards, with fines of €5,000 each later imposed, along with a one-match ban for Donegal full-back Neil McGee.
McBrearty reflects on the ugly scenes as nothing more than two successful teams not wanting to concede an inch, but expects no repeat of those hostilities when Kerry visit Letterkenny on Sunday.
“I don’t get involved in scuffles, but I did that day and I don’t know why,” he said at yesterday’s Allianz Leagues launch in Belfast.
“We didn’t go out to set that tone, but from the first 10 seconds there was a schmozzle. I was involved in an incident with Aidan O’Mahony underneath the stand. I was probably lucky enough to get away with it.
“It is good when you have a rivalry with Kerry, but it was soon forgotten. I can’t see it happening again.”
Donegal are in rebuild mode, having lost so many experienced players to retirement while Leo McLoone, Odhran MacNiallais, and Anthony Thompson have opted out of the panel for now.
Pundits are predicting the demise of the 2012 All-Ireland champions is imminent, but any suggestion they’re in transition has McBrearty bristling.
“People on the outside might say that and not think before they speak, but, as players, we’re very confident the way things are going.
“We’ve been in the last six Ulster finals in a row. Success breeds success and you become even hungrier. We’re really happy with where we’re at at the minute.”
Take a couple of big scalps in Division 1 this spring and the Kilcar forward is sure Donegal will have people talking for all the right reasons.
“It’s well known Donegal gets the brunt of it when it comes to high-profile people in the GAA talking. Maybe, we want to prove them wrong a bit, but, as a squad, we’re all united and want to prove to each other we’re in this together.
“We have Kerry, Dublin, Monaghan, and Tyrone all at home, so there’ll be big crowds and hopefully we can get momentum behind us. It’s exciting times for Donegal to be honest. One win over a big team and people will have a different view of Donegal.”
He’s only 23, but the Ulster University Jordanstown business student has achieved so much in a Donegal jersey since shooting to fame as a schoolboy rookie under Jim McGuinness in 2011.
He is maturing nicely under Rory Gallagher, his 0-11 against Cork in last year’s qualifier in Croke Park a sign that there’s a lot more to come from this gifted attacker.
His big regret, of course, is the 2014 All-Ireland final loss to the Kingdom.
“They didn’t take it well when we beat them in 2012 and we were devastated when they beat us in 2014. After beating Dublin [in the semi-final], people thought we had the job done, but Kerry were sitting quiet.
“The better team won, we had no complaints, but it’s one we are very disappointed we didn’t win.”
In 2013, Kerry lost their first four league games and their opening three a year later. That would suggest February is a good time to play them, though their McGrath Cup win over Limerick 10 days ago suggests a different approach.
“They seem to have a more serious attitude towards it and are integrating a lot of younger lads,” said McBrearty. “They’re going to come to Letterkenny wanting to make their mark.”
Meanwhile, Tyrone forward Darren McCurry says he’s ready to take on added responsibility and lead the attack in the absence of the injured Connor McAliskey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening McKenna Cup match against Cavan.
“He really did have a good championship, in fact a couple of good years for Tyrone and he had put in a good pre-season,” said McCurry.
“He was going well, looking strong, and we want to go out and do him justice. The whole team is gutted for him. It is a bad injury, but he will be back in a year or two and hopefully he is the stronger for it.”
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