Paddy McBrearty is the clearest, most present danger to Dublin. Proof comes with the 0-11 he inflicted on Cork last Saturday evening. A tune-up, if you will, for his return to Croke Park one quick week later.
So good was the Kilcar marksman that a three-minute 26-second YouTube film was created to commemorate each point along with a haunting, trippy soundtrack.
Eoin Cadogan features prominently. Trailing in McBrearty's wake for all seven strikes from play, the 29-year-old was routinely done for pace by the 22-year-old (who turns 23 on Thursday) yet Gaelic football's man-marker textbook will struggle to find fault with the powerful Cork defender.
Each run saw McBrearty sprinting away from the posts, towards midfield or the sideline. Usually when a forward moves away from goal, edging out of range, his marker can be content. Problem was, McBrearty’s left foot caught fire and kept burning. Each time he gathered he pointed.
“I keep making the same runs,” he said. “Luckily the ball found me when I made those runs. The boys had their heads up more than other days.”
His class was undeniable. The 26th minute score is as good an example as any. So far out the field was McBrearty that Cadogan passed him off to centre back Tom Clancy. A straight sprint arced once Martin McElhinney laid off possession near the 45. Five rapid strides later and the ball was in the Canal End nets.
“I haven’t changed from my own game. I just kept making the same runs and the ball found me,” he repeated.
Considering the McHugh brothers, Ryan and Eoin, combined for 0-5, it proved a memorable night for the parish.
“Not bad. Doesn’t say we won a championship though, does it? That’s just the way it goes. Some days you have those days, some days you don’t. It was a great day as well for Ryan and Eoin, a great day for the wee club in Kilcar. A parish of only 900 people, it’s a big achievement for us.”
All this good form creates an interesting dilemma for Jim Gavin’s Dublin defenders. Who picks up who from McBrearty, Odhrán Mac Niallais, the overlapping McHughs and roaming Michael Murphy?
McBrearty will remain close to the square, dashing out in search of a tiny patch of grass to shoot from.
The expected absence of James McCarthy, due to a knee injury, heaps further pressure on the All-Ireland champions. Philly McMahon has silenced Colm Cooper of late, while Johnny Cooper, Mick Fitzsimons and Cian O'Sullivan are no strangers to tracking the opposition's finest.
“It’s going to be a massive game. Dublin are one of the best teams of all time. We know the challenge that is there. Nobody is going to be giving us a hope, so it’s all about our attitude on the day and over the next six days that will count.”
Sounds awfully like the build-up to the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final when Donegal delivered the biggest championship upset in the modern era. McBrearty landed 0-2 in that 3-14 to 0-17 victory when coming off the bench for Leo McLoone after 42 minutes.
“We just kept our head down and didn’t listen to the outside voices, and we had really good tunnel vision,” he remembers of that famous victory.
“We exploited what we felt were their weaknesses. I think Dublin will be more switched on the next day and won’t allow us to do certain things. But we’re looking forward to it. Big game against Dublin in Croke Park, probably a sell-out.”
Last time they met at headquarters was in April when Dublin eased into the league final with a 1-20 to 0-13 final score. McBrearty hit 0-8 that evening.
Tyrone, Donegal's conquerors in the Ulster final, and Mayo also journey into the north inner city this Saturday.
“It was a long 13, 14 days after losing to Tyrone. The character and the passion we showed in those 13, 14 days really showed there in the second half. We’re just happy to be back to face the Dubs.”
Back to face these Dubs as the last county to beat them in Championship football.