BY CHRIS MCNULTY
NEIL McGee isn’t a good spectator.
Then again, he doesn’t have to be too often.
Since making his Donegal debut against this week’s opponents, Down, in 2006, the All-Star Gaoth Dobhair man hasn’t missed a Championship game.
His full attendance record was in grave danger before the last game against Tyrone – and he lasted just two minutes before a hamstring injury forced him off.
“It was horrible,” McGee said of having to withdraw in the infant stages of a game that may well turn into a season-defining one.
“I just knew after the first run I made. It wasn’t even a sprint, just a wee turn and it just cramped up straight away. It wouldn’t have been fair on the team if I’d stayed on.
“It was horrible watching.
“When you’re playing you don’t realise how intense it gets because you’re so concentrated on playing and doing your own job. When you’re watching you’re thinking about everything.”
When Donegal came under siege in the closing stages, McGee was itching on the edge of his seat in the Gerry Arthurs Stand. The combative west Donegal man craves the types of scenarios that made for a gripping Ulster semi-final – and he was delighted his team-mates were on the right side of the result.
McGee said: “In fairness, the boys put their bodies on the line in the last ten minutes and we got over the line.
“Only for ‘Papa’ putting the leg out we wouldn’t have got over it…you need the wee bit of luck too sometimes.”
Former Armagh player Aidan O’Rourke has joined James McCartan’s set-up in Down following a backroom shake-up.
And McGee believes the fruits of his methods are telling – and he insists that the bookmakers have got the odds for this game somewhat skewed.
He said: “We expect Down to be every bit as intense as Tyrone.
“They have Aidan O’Rourke in there now coaching and he is known for his tackling, for his stopping and I hear he is a very intense trainer. You can see that coming into their game.
“The odds are ridiculous. Down are a Division 1 team who beat us in the League and these boys were in an All-Ireland final two years ago. Where those odds are coming from, I don’t know. They have six sharp forwards and it’ll be a different test for us.”
McGee was the form full-back in the country last year – and received an All-Star for his troubles.
A fairytale season’s book closed and another swiftly opened.
Last year’s final win over Derry might have been enough for most teams – but it only served to add to Donegal’s cravings for victories on the big stage.
With the Anglo-Celt up for grabs, McGee says this weekend is a chance for Donegal to really lay a marker down as Ulster’s top dogs.
He said: “It’s a big boost going in as champions. Winning last year helped us for the Kildare game – it drove us on and gave us confidence. It’s important for us now going in as champions this week.
“Boys have played with more freedom this year. Last year, boys were more intense and it was all about getting over the line. We don’t have a lot of Ulster titles in the county, so we’ll be pushing hard again to land this one.”