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‘He stood out because he was pure class’ – Brian Kerr saw the brilliance of Paul McGrath in his Dalkey days

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Ireland legend Paul McGrath, left, and former Ireland manager Brian Kerr are pictured during an RTE 2FM Game On International Special back in 2014. Photo: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE
Ireland legend Paul McGrath, left, and former Ireland manager Brian Kerr are pictured during an RTE 2FM Game On International Special back in 2014. Photo: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

It is one of the great regrets of a lifetime in football that I never got to manage Paul McGrath.

It is one of the great regrets of a lifetime in football that I never got to manage Paul McGrath.

He left St Patrick’s Athletic a couple of years before I took over there and the great man was sadly retired from football by the time I took over the Irish senior team.

But I did spot Paul’s talent before anyone. Yet a bit like the fella who didn’t sign the Beatles, I did nothing about it.

It was just when I was packing it in as a player and starting to dabble in management.

I was doing a bit of both, I was neither one nor the other, neither truly player nor manager. I had joined CYM in Terenure, whose pitches were just down the road from the old Sunday World offices there, on a loose sort of a deal that I’d play and manage a team as well.

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‘Charlie Walker, the legendary St Patrick’s Athletic manager was at the game for the same reason I was. He was looking for a footballer he could polish into a League of Ireland player. Instead he found a shining gem.’ – Paul McGrath in action for St Patrick’s Athletic in 1982.

After a while with CYM, I got into the habit of not picking myself to play while running the ‘B’ team.

It just meant one less lad to tell that he wasn’t getting a game that day.

So there I was, standing on the sideline one morning watching CYM’s second team playing Dalkey United and there was this lad playing for Dalkey in the middle of the pitch – see Jack Charlton wasn’t the first to do it!

He stood out for three reasons, his height, his colour, this was early 1980s Ireland remember, and because he was pure class.

Yes, it was a modest level of football. However, it was clear that this young lad was a world ahead of the other 21 lads on that cold, windy, southside Dublin football pitch.

“I wouldn’t mind having him with us” was the thought that went through my mind. A few months later there was the final of a tournament between the Mayo League and the Leinster Senior League, where the best players of both leagues took part.

I went along to the game, to see could I source a player or two for the following season and there he was again, this tall lad, playing for the LSL, basically running the match.

You’d have to wonder where all those Mayo lads are now, they’d all be around 60 too now.

Do they remember that match in Dublin all those years ago, when Paul McGrath ran rings around them?

I didn’t know his name then, but as I watched more and more of the match, I made a mental note to contact someone in the LSL to get his name. Yet there was someone who moved faster than me, much faster.

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A painting for former St Patrick’s Athletic player Paul McGrath is seen outside Richmond Park, Inchicore. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Charlie Walker, the legendary St Patrick’s Athletic manager was at the game for the same reason I was.

He was looking for a footballer he could polish into a League of Ireland player. Instead he found a shining gem. And the story goes that the great Paul McGrath was a St Pat’s player the following morning.

Charlie knew a good one when he saw one, and moved very quickly to get Paul’s name onto a League of Ireland registration form. He only graced Richmond Park for one season, before Manchester United came calling.

And yet whenever the ‘Richer’ faithful get together to pick the best Pat’s team of all time, or the best Pat’s team they have ever seen, Paul goes in and there is never an argument.

Anyone who saw him playing for the club for that season will not have it any other way.

To think that the great Paul would go on to grace the top flight of English football for a dozen years, to play at three major tournaments for Ireland and to be voted Player of the Year by his peers.

Yes, back then, Pat’s fans were watching something special. And I saw something very special that morning in Terenure.

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