Saturday 24 March 2018

McGee bids to banish three decades of bitter Monaghan memories

23 September 2012; Eamon McGee, Donegal, in action against Aidan O'Shea, Mayo. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Donegal v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
23 September 2012; Eamon McGee, Donegal, in action against Aidan O'Shea, Mayo. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Donegal v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

THE sight of Monaghan in the championship brings haunting memories back to Donegal people.

Donegal haven't beaten Monaghan in championship football since 1983. Meetings between the counties have been sparse, but Monaghan have inflicted defeats on Donegal that are almost unspeakable.

In 1995, PJ McGowan's Donegal sent All-Ireland champions Down packing from the championship, but Monaghan turned up in Ballybofey and popped a pin in Donegal's balloon, winning 1-14 to 0-8.

Six years ago, Brian McIver stepped down as Donegal manager after Monaghan hammered his side in a qualifier in Omagh, where Vinny Corey and Tommy Freeman found the net in a 2-12 to 1-7 win. It had been a season that saw Donegal come off the spring by winning a maiden National League title.

Very quickly, they were derailed and McIver felt he couldn't continue. "I have always given 100pc and looking at that last night, the thought of starting out again in November, driving to Castlefin for a two-and-a-half-hour round trip two or three times a week, I just couldn't give that," he said.

Eamon McGee played that night in Healy Park and is rather more blunt in his assessment.

"It was such an abject performance and Brian probably felt he couldn't work with us afterwards," he recalls.

"It was just part and parcel of what happened at that time."

Donegal managed to coax McIver into giving it another go.

Fate should have wagged a finger at the Ballinderry man. Back he went, but Donegal fell from the Ulster race after a thriller against Derry, and were paired with Monaghan once more.

Their Indian sign over the Tir Chonaill men continued as Paul Finlay's seven points inspired a narrow win. There would be no way back for McIver, whose tenure was met with an acrimonious ending at a subsequent county committee meeting.

"I remember those games well," says McGee. "The same personnel is still there and they'll believe they can match us in the final. That's the massive thing at this level – having that belief.

"Sometimes sides are beaten before they go out on the field because they hear these myths about Donegal. 'Donegal are doing this, Donegal are doing that'. But Monaghan will know they've had our number in the recent past and that'll be a big thing for them.

"Monaghan are a dangerous animal. We know the players that have played Sigerson in Sligo and they're all quality players. They are going to be so hungry. They'll bring plenty of energy and physicality. We need to not just match that but come out on top.

"I expect them to bring a massive intensity to this game."

Monaghan will meet a different animal to the brittle Donegal they faced previously. Farney manager Malachy O'Rourke will likely be picking the brains of Ryan Porter a little more than usual this week – the Monaghan trainer was employed as trainer of the Donegal squad during McIver's reign and will have first-hand knowledge of most of them.

McGee feels that their own preparation has been the biggest reason behind Donegal's rising from the ashes of those defeats to Monaghan.

"If we were coming to training and not giving it 100pc because we were playing a particular opposition, Jim (McGuinness) would soon step in," says the Gaoth Dobhair man. "But when he sees us giving our all then he has no need to. If all is going well within our circle, we have no need to worrying about what's going on outside it.

"You see people like 'Papa' (Paul Durcan) driving up from Dublin, Rory Kavanagh is married, Colm McFadden is married with another new kid and they are still the first men at training.

"That's the kind of effort spurs the rest of us on. We train at a high level and that means that there is no drop-off point. We know we have all that work in the bank.

"We have that reassurance, that consistency. It's not up and down anymore. All that gives us confidence in ourselves and each other."

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