`Peter The Great` Soars To Summit Of GAA World

LIKE a Phoenix, arising from the depths of defeat and humiliation, Peter McGrath has soared back to the summit of the GAA world, in 2004, following the Ireland side’s record-breaking triumph in the International Rules series.

What a far cry from that period of desolation when, after guiding the Mournemen twice to Sam Maguire Cup victories, Pete resigned when his youthful side, - depleted by the retirement of veterans like DJ Kane, Ross Carr, Ambrose Rodgers and Greg Blaney, - slumped to defeat to lowly Longford.

So, when GAA president, Sean Kelly, selected the St Colman’s College assistant coach to take charge of the Ireland squad for the International Rules competition, following in the footsteps of Colm O’Rourke, John O’Keefe and Brian McEniff, eyebrows wee raised. Nor were doubts dispelled by the omission of Ciaran McGeeney and Colm Cooper from the line-out.

Peter commented: “I was aware that taking such a high-profile position could re-open the door to top management, - to get back on the big stage. Our success gave me great satisfaction, and vindicated my decisions. I’m looking forward to the coming year, not just for the International Rules games in Australia, but what may result.”

Explaining the controversial team-selections, he stated: “I wanted to impose our style over that series, to get players in place, who could perform to that style. We simply focussed on our own game.”

Peter’s philosophy was summed up in a foreward to my book, `Down’s Days of Glory,` when he wrote: “The God-like Down heroes of the 60’s have been my inspiration. And they have been a source of sustenance to me as manager of the Down squad, whenever things got a bit rocky.

“Those All-Ireland victories were major influential forces on any boy, growing up in that period, who had ambitions to play Gaelic football at any level. And the fact that my brother, Hilary, was a member of the team which beat Kerry and won the Sam Maguire Cup in 1968, gave personal satisfaction.”

The talented manager added: “Over that period my enthusiasm for Gaelic football took over in a big way. Indeed, the 60’s were a time of adventure, excitement and achievement, - a momentous and memorable decade.” And the experienced mentor ensured that another decade, the 90’s, would be an era when the red and black was worn once more with pride and joy at Croke Park.

A close friend, Dr Paddy Murphy from Rostrevor, who has been director of the Belfast Institute for Higher Education and an Irish News columnist, paid tribute to Peter McGrath, in the wake of the second All-Ireland Senior Championship triumph, in 1994.

Describing how “the manager listens with a tolerance and forbearance, which a lifetime of teaching has encouraged, and a lifetime of learning has acquired,” he stated: “Peter listens with a degree of humility, which makes St Francis of Assisi seems positively aggressive.

“He accepts accolades on his own or the team’s behalf, whether crystal, silver or verbal, - manifestations from the appreciative, grateful, or those who just want to be associated with success. And he does it all with a sincerity which reflects genuine appreciation, and a professionalism which belies his amateur status.”

And, in the 1994 Down Yearbook, Dr Murphy described Peter McGrath as “a perfectionist, whose success lies in his own self-belief, which he transmits to his charges, and a confidence, which some media observers have mistaken for arrogance. There was no triumphalism in the celebration of victory, - just satisfaction at a job well done.

“The All-Ireland victory of 1991 unleashed emotions, which many supporters had not seen for more than a generation. But Peter had to reconcile that euphoria with the reality of Derry in 1992/93. While the triumph of 1994 brought pleasure and satisfaction, there was a warm glow of satisfaction, realising that a job had been well planned and superbly executed.

“Down had won the All-Ireland title, but this time it was another notch in history, - another step on the journey of a lifetime. The Young Pretender of 1991 had become a respected leader and diplomat. Behind that professionalism lies a humanity and basic decency.

“Peter McGrath is an ordinary man, with simple tastes and lifestyle, who lives his life as he encourages his squad to play, - simple, direct and effective. The public face is balanced by a privacy, within which lies deeply-held values of decency and honesty, making him a success, on and off the field.”

Another Rostrevor Gael, Danny Murphy, explained that “Pete McGrath operates on the simple principle that you only get out of life, what you are prepared to put into it.

He started as manager on the county minor side, which reached the Ulster Final in 1982. winning the Ulster Championship in 1986, repeating the feat in `87, defeating Kildare and Cork to win Down’s second All-Ireland title.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008