Brothers primed to step up to next level


The McGee brothers – Eamon and Neil – reflect on Donegal’s All-Ireland success with GAVIN CUMMISKEY

IT WAS 7.45pm on Monday when the McGee brothers sat down to talk with The Irish Times. They were comfortably in double digits for interviews over a gruelling day that started with an early morning journey from the isolated parish of Gaoth Dobhair, in the farthest reaches of northwest Donegal.

“Howya getting on now lads?” asked Rob Kearney, a not so well-known former Louth minor footballer, as he conducted interviews across the hotel suite along with his younger brother Dave. “No bother, Rob.”

The trio figured out Kearney was a year too young to have crossed paths with Neil at underage. But that’s the circles All-Ireland winners find themselves in. They invariably become sponsorship gold. Last time the McGees spoke to the national media they were relatively well-known footballing brothers from the same patch of An Ghaeltacht as Kevin Cassidy and Enya.

Everything has changed these past few weeks. They have become an inspiration to mid-tier panels like Derry or Armagh, even sleeping giants like Meath and Galway. Because the truly ambitious intercounty squads and managements are forensically examining the Donegal model in order to replicate the glorious success they achieved last month.

“Yeah, I was chatting to Paddy Bradley there and he was saying it just goes to show you what hard work can do, a bit of belief and if you have a good man looking after the whole show,” said elder sibling Eamon. “It’s not unrealistic for a whole lot of teams to come on. Hopefully what we did these past two years will inspire other teams to go up a notch. It can only be good for Gaelic games if that happens.”

Neil has a slightly different stance, when the question was asked in relation to clubs in Donegal trying to copy the Jim McGuinness blueprint. “We tried that ourselves, trying to copy Armagh and then Tyrone but it never worked. Every team needs to develop its own style of play and a style that suits the players that are available.”

Eamon has already described, in these pages to Keith Duggan, the day he came off better than Kieran Donaghy in the All-Ireland quarter-final as a “career game”. It remains the moment of 2012 most dear to his heart.

“We had come in with a big question hanging over Donegal football; whether we could compete with the big dogs of the GAA. We came in and not only competed but we dominated them. I think Neil snuffed Cooper out and I was happy enough with how I dealt with Donaghy. It was a nice game to look back on and say, ‘That there was the game when we knew we were going to get this All-Ireland.’”

But they nearly caught you at the finish line?

“Because they got in for a sneaky enough wee goal, when we switched off. It had only been just over a year and half since we came from being hammered by Armagh (June 26th, 2010). We went a few points up on Kerry and then Kerry pegged a goal back on us, and we were all over the shop. It was an experience on our part, something that will hopefully help us next year.”

Neil sounds genuine when disconnecting from the moment that lingers in his mind. “I went off injured after two minutes, but Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final. We knew coming into the game that Tyrone had been training to beat us since last year. Paul Durcan made a save in the last minute from Martin Penrose. He got a boot to the ball, otherwise it could have been a totally different season.”

Talk of McGuinness joining a professional sporting organisation is dismissed but a possible return of Cassidy to the panel in 2013 is not. Neil says: “He has been back playing and he is in good shape so there has been talk about it. But I can’t say anything more about it.”

They might need him. The next test for Donegal is to become more like Kerry than Cork or Dublin. Even Tyrone in the 2000s failed to retain Sam Maguire.

Neil agrees: “That’s the challenge for us. What we’ve done this year won’t be good enough to win next year so we need to get up to that level again and find another level again. Kerry will be back strong with a new manager, Dublin have a new manager, Cork, Mayo, Kildare will be very hungry next to try and . . . the likes of Tyrone, Armagh might . . . so it will be interesting.”

Eamon and Neil McGee were interviewed at the launch of Medal of Honour: Warfighter, available in stores Friday.

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