Pauric McDaid in action for Naomh Brid Picture: Michael O'Donnell
Only the special ones are still going after 25 years on the football field and that was achieved last year by Pauric McDaid of Naomh Bríd.
He started out as a 16-year-old in 1995, first with the reserves but quickly was promoted to the senior team and he is still there, thanks to making the leap from Poacher to Gamekeeper.
The forward who is known throughout the county as one of the best club freetakers around, made the transition to goalkeeper in the middle of the last decade and so continued to make a vital contribution to the Ballintra/Laghey club.
McDaid will be 42 next month and will be ready for action when the action resumes. When talking to him at the weekend he was off work due to Covid-19 but was busy with home-schooling. Pauric is married to Caroline and they have two daughters Sadie and Lucy.
His underage football career began under the tutelage of Martin O'Malley and Pierce Ferriter and the old field in Trummon would have been his stage but by the time he played senior the present facilities were in place.
The earliest highlight would have been reaching the U-14B final in 1991, a team managed by the late Dermot 'Rocky' Gallagher and Pauric's father, Donal (who was a member of the first Ballintra team which took the field in 1976).
The U-14s lost out in that county final and Pauric says he has a photo. "Looking at the picture it's obvious it was taken after the final whistle because there are not too many happy faces," says McDaid.
However, there were better days ahead with a minor county title in 1997, defeating Downings in the decider. McDaid's most notable teammates around that time were Donal Martin and Rory Sweeney, who both won All-Ireland Vocational School and Ulster minor championship medals with Donegal.
Pauric's secondary education was at the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Ballyshannon and he remembers having Sean Nugent and John Irwin as team managers. He says he won some medals but can't remember what they were for.
He was called to county minor trials at that time also but there was unfortunate timing. "I remember going to trials for the minor team but it didn't work out very well that day. I think we had our Debs the night before and it was just unfortunate; not the best preparation."
While still at secondary school, he would have made his debut at senior level.
"I think I was 16 when I started to play senior reserve for Naomh Brid. For some reason Glenfin stands out as my first game. I would have played a couple of games for the reserves but moved up to the senior team quick enough.
"My first senior game might have been MacCumhaill's in championship."
There were Division Three league titles in 1998 and 2007, but the highlights at adult level came in 2003 and 2006, winning the Donegal Junior championship. The 2006 win, in particular, was the club's big year as they went all the way to the Ulster club final with Michael Gallagher as manager.
They had wins over Coa (Fermanagh) and Bredagh (Down) in the semi-final in Breffni Park before meeting Greencastle of Tyrone in the final in Casement Park, Belfast.
When reminded that David Walsh had got injured at work in the week leading up to the final, it was something that Pauric had forgotten. "There were a lot of us who didn't perform in that final. We had a poor start and we got into it then in the second half. I know myself I missed a good few chances. It was a windy, blustery day and it just didn't work out for us.
"We were beaten in the junior final in 2002 by Robert Emmet's and then in 2003 we defeated Red Hugh's with Eamon McNulty and Michael Walls in charge," he said.
Asked when did the free-taking become a big part of his game, McDaid says: "I would have been taking frees from all underage grades. There would have been a few of us, myself, Pauric Curristin, Rory Sweeney and Lorcan McGrory would have been more left footed.
"And as the boys left to go to America and fell away from the football, I was the only one kinda left. I would have been taking them for the minors and reserves. And once I went to the seniors it would have been myself and Matt (Gallagher) and maybe Joey Griffin would have taken a few, and Dermot Curristin.
"Matt would have encouraged us to go for it; he was good that way. I suppose he was saving the legs at that stage.
"I would have been taking them up until I started playing in goals, and the first few years when I was in there I would have went up for an odd free."
And how did the transition from forward to goalkeeper come about?
"We lost a semi-final over in Convoy and some fella said to me 'I don't know whether you will be back next year or not. You should consider going into goals for kicks-outs and that'. I think it just stemmed from there. They might have tried me in training a couple of times.
"The whole emphasis was on kick-outs in Gaelic football for a while, maybe that's what swung it. It would have been nice to be able to stay outfield but maybe the legs were going a wee bit," said McDaid, who says he must be six or seven years in goals at this stage."
And how has he found the new experience?
"I would feel that there is a lot more pressure to being in the goals because one mistake and it can be very costly. It doesn't have as much freedom as being able to roam out the field," he said.
"If I got a chance I would still make an odd wee run out if there was space. I have definitely done it. Maybe two years I was in the opposition 'box' at the end of the game trying to see if I could snatch an 'oul goal," he says.
McDaid says there isn't much need for him to take any frees nowadays. "Not so much in the last couple of years as we have Callum (Gallagher) and Darragh Brogan in there. They are pretty accurate so there is no need for me to wasting energy running up the field."
But by taking on the goalkeeping role, it has kept him involved. He has an interesting observation about the kicking that a goalkeeper does.
"Kicking off the tee is easier, but it takes away from taking free kicks off the ground. You get spoiled a bit and your technique wouldn't be as good as when you were kicking off the ground. Also it has made it a wee bit more awkward that they can't give it directly back to the 'keeper."
But the accuracy of Pauric McDaid, due to his experience of free-taking, is paying dividends for Naomh Bríd.
McDaid has played a small bit of soccer throughout his career with Ballintra Rovers, Copany Rovers and a season with Donegal Town.
When it comes to selecting the best teams that he played against and for, he says: "That was a big ordeal, picking these teams."
His biggest problems arose with the best team played with with the fear of leaving someone out.
"The biggest decision was the goalkeeper between Terence Kilpatrick or John Gallagher. Terence put in long service with the club and John Gallagher got us to an Ulster final. That day of the final they scored a goal and he still says it wasn't over the line," says McDaid, who asked for a bit of leeway to allow both occupy the role.
"There are plenty of other boys I could have put in but when you are restricted to 15 it's not easy. Among those to miss out are John McNulty, Sean Gormley, Declan McCafferty, John Joe Travers, Fintan Doherty and Clint Walsh."
As for the best team played against, he comments that there are a lot of freetakers in his forward line. "There would some fighting over who got the ball to take a free."
Played some soccer with Ballintra Rovers and a little with Copany Rovers and I had a season with Donegal Town
David 'Buddy' Greene
Benny Quinn Kieran McBrearty Trevor Melly
(St Naul's) (N Columba) (Na Rossa)
Shane O'Donnell Barry Monaghan Paddy McConigley
(Bundoran) (Four Masters) (Fanad Gaels)
Ownie McGarvey Joe Friel
(Naomh Muire) (Cloughaneely)
Stephen McDermott Seamie Coshia Friel Kevin Kane
(Glenfin) (Fanad Gaels) (Pettigo)
Damien Browne Tony Boyle Manus Boyle
(Red Hugh's) (Dungloe) (Killybegs)
TEAM PLAYED WITH
Terence Kilpatrick/John Gallagher
Donal Martin Paul Gallagher Eoin Ferriter
Shane Gallagher Matt Gallagher Dermot Langan
Aidan Walsh Gerard Gallagher
Stephen Walls Rory Sweeney Padraig Rooney
Dermot Curristin David Walsh Petie Walsh
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