Wednesday 26 October 2016

No Blues for Pete McGrath over Dublin job that nearly was

Pete McGrath in 1994 when he was Down manager
Pete McGrath in 1994 when he was Down manager

IF circumstances had been different, Pete McGrath could have ended up as Dublin manager at the end of 2004.

And if the "sounding out" call had come five years later, he probably would have grabbed his chance to take on the glamour team of Gaelic football.

But McGrath has no regrets that, as Fermanagh boss, he'll be plotting an improbable downfall of the Dubs this Sunday, not the other way round.

"The phone call that John (Costello) made to me in 2004 - it was a preliminary, just a sounding-out," he recounts. "I was International Rules manager at the time, still a second year to go; I was still teaching … and I just didn't fancy (it).

"I mean, Dublin are maybe the glamour team in the country because of the colour and the crowds they bring, the metropolis and all that … but no, I've never regretted it.

"Dublin are on a different plane now than they were then. I mean, Dublin still had barren years, and years that ended prematurely, and years that ended with people saying, 'That team is not anywhere near achieving its potential.' So it was a different Dublin, to a certain extent. I think they've brought it up."

Would he have said 'Yes' if the call came four or five years later, by which point he would have retired from St Colman's, Newry? "I probably do think that would be the case," he concurs. "But I'm very happy here. More than happy here."

McGrath was just 37 when he brought Sam Maguire back to Down in '91, and again three years later. Now he's in his early sixties, sprightly as ever, but has he missed those big Croke Park days such as next Sunday?

"Absolutely," he says. "Once anyone gets a taste of that, it stays with you.

"You always harbour that desire and hope that, some day, you'll get back there. And more than once I've said to our players, 'What are your ambitions? Do you want to be playing always in front of two or three thousand people, or do you want to really be the best you can be?' Because their inter-county career will go very, very quickly and whatever potential and whatever ability they have, they have to maximise it.

"They want this, and they want more of it, and hopefully they'll get it. But certainly it's the motivating thing for me."

Now for the hard part: Dublin. How will Fermanagh cope with their physique?

"Dublin turned over Westmeath by getting around them and making the hits ... so it's a no-brainer. You have to try in as far as you can, when you're in possession, to minimise the amount of contact," he says.

"And the other physicality bit is when they've got the ball, stopping them. Because they have got power, they have got pace.

"They may be a bit stronger than us physically, but in my view it is no way men against boys. No way. It might be men against young men, but not men against boys."

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