McGinley: "I’ve been on a learning curve all my life for this role"

McGinley: "I’ve been on a learning curve all my life for this role"

Paul McGinley. Picture Fran Caffrey, 22-Sep-14

Paul McGinley is the type of guy you’d respect on a gaelic football pitch — skilful, intelligent, hard, but above all, fair.

It’s a common description of the man tasked with leading Europe’s defence of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles this week but while Pádraig Harrington always likes to goad his pal and accuse of him of suffering from SMS — Small Man Syndrome — it’s an accusation that rang true at least once back in McGinley’s gaelic football days with Ballyboden St Enda’s.

As became clear him a new documentary which airs on the Sky Sports Ryder Cup channel at 6pm today, if push five feet seven inch McGinley a little too hard, he’s not going to roll over and take it lying down.

"I played half forward," he says. "I used to play on the left side and the reason I played on the left side was I could turn infield and kick on my right foot. Although I used my left, I was much better on my right. 

"My forte was reading the game, picking up the scraps around midfield because you had the big guys, the big 6ft 4" — 6’5" guys, they would play in midfield and obviously when you’ve four guys of 6ft going for the ball together, a lot of scraps fall out when they try to catch and that was my forte, coming round and trying to pick up the scraps and then distributing it.

"There’s one incident I always remember when I come back here and it’s not one I’m proud of. It was my one and only time ever being sent off. And what happened was I was playing over here [pointing to the spot], I was playing half forward. 

"And before the match started, you take your positions and the man marking you is there. And your man, he saw not being very big and also being very young and he tried to soften me up a little bit. So I got a few punches in the kidneys off the ball and all of that and it was niggly, niggly, niggly. 

"About half way through the first half the ball got loose and it was on the ground and so with picking up the ball you have to bend over and put your foot under it to pick it up. And he was, as he was bending down to pick it up, I came at him from an angle. And I hit him. It’s called a fair tackle, I hit him with my shoulder which you’re allowed to but I hit him as hard as I could. 

"And, of course, because he was off balance and he was bent over, he went flying. The crowd jumped out of the way and he went flying and I remember there was a car, the old fashion bumpers in the front.

"And he went, tumbling, tumbling and tumbling and then smacked his head against this bumper. Knocked himself out. Well, all hell broke loose. All hell. Both teams milled in on top and they all kind of calmed down while the referee pulls me aside and sends me off.

"But that was my one and only time I was sent off and it’s not something I’m proud of. I always remember it when I see this spot."

McGinley has explained many times how shattering his kneecap as a 19 year old as shattered his dream of playing senior football for Dublin, just as his father Michael had played for Donegal.

But while he turned his attention to golf and went from being an "eight or nine" handicapper to the European Tour in the space of six years, he still remembers those years playing for Ballyboden and hankers for that team camaraderie.

Smells and sensations from the past often evoke powerful memories and when McGinley enters his old dressing room, thoughts and feelings from the old days coming flooding back.

"Smells exactly the same, exactly the same," he says, casting his eyes around the dressing room. "I do remember very vividly sitting here in the seat that we’re sitting in with a team mate here and another team mate here. Everybody used to get an orange. The little quadrant of orange.

"Sometimes you’d have nearly 30 people in a very small confined spaced like this. That was very intimate, it was very passionate and it was very noisy. But you know obviously when the coach spoke it was his voice and his voice only. That was a very strong voice."

McGinley will have his intimate moments with his entire team this week but he prefers to operate on a one-to-one basis in an exercise of bespoke captaincy. 

"The Ryder Cup is a different environment obviously," he explains in that spartan changing room in Knocklyon. "I think it would be a lot cosier than this, a lot more plush than this dressing room. But you know there’s only so much you do as a captain.

"Yes, we’ll have our meetings most evenings. But they won’t be very long. They’ll be short and sweet. Most of my management as a captain will be going on an individual basis rather than collectively in a team or in a locker room as such. For me it’s all done and everybody prepares their own way after that.

"The captain’s job very much is setting the tone and setting the field behind the scenes, creating an environment for the players to go out and play their best golf and be passionate and have that sense of sharing, that sense of everybody pulling in the same direction. 

"The energy is multiplied so much more when there are more people all pulling in the same direction and who are excited and up for what they are trying to achieve, which is win the Ryder Cup."

Looking around his old club, he adds: "This is where my association with teams and my bonding of teams and my excitement of being part of a team all started. 

"I’ve been on a learning curve all my life for this role that I am in — captaincy. It started here in the dressing room in the GAA and then it moved on to playing Ryder Cup and then it moved on to Seve Trophy captaincies. Then it moved on to vice captaincy. 

"Unbeknown to me, I was preparing in so many ways for this moment — to be the European captain…. I’ve a lot of experience of teams and how it all comes together and hopefully I can put that to good effect and put it all together and make some good decisions and hopefully be a good captain."

And a fair captain. Just don’t push him too hard. 

"The ‘Paul McGinley: Making of a Captain’ documentary will air on the Sky Sports Ryder Cup channel at 6pm on Tuesday 23rd September. Sky Sports will ‘Bring The Noise’ from The 2014 Ryder Cup exclusively live on TV, mobile and online. A range of half price offers are available when subscribing to Sky Sports. Call Sky Ireland on 0818 719 819 for more information."