BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DONEGAL defender Eamon McGee insists that his side are content with their position as they head into a crunch last day of the Division Two campaign on Sunday in Armagh.
Donegal are well poised for a return back to the top flight. Avoiding defeat to Armagh will rubber-stamp their place in Division One for 2015, but victory is the name of the game in the Athletic Grounds.
After defeating Louth on Sunday in Ballyshannon, with David Walsh’s goal firing them to a win after the Wee County had stormed back with three goals to stun Donegal.
Having been disappointing for long spells in their draw against Meath and, particularly, their defeat to Down, there were concerns expressed after the manner of the three Louth goals, two of which came in a crazy 90-second spell in the second half.
“Listen, we’re happy with where we are,” McGee stressed this week.
“I know we said that last year, that we were happy where we were at. We couldn’t see it at the time, but now this year we have the work done. Last year, we were coming back from Dubai in January and were always playing catch-up.
“We have the work done now this year and have young lads bedded in. There isn’t a lot more you can say or do at this stage of the year.
“You become immune to it all and don’t get caught up in it all. After every game there are things said about you: After every bad performance you’re buggered; after every good performance people get carried away. You just can’t take much notice of it.
“Look at 2012 when we were beaten by Laois in the League for example – not too many people would have had us down for a Sam Maguire after that. It’s a bit of an old cliché, but the summer is where it’s at and the summer is where it counts.
“The weeks won’t be long going in now. We have Armagh this week, then the holiday week, hopefully we’ll have a League final and there isn’t much time between then and Derry. Any time that we get for training is precious because Derry is coming quickly.”
Jim McGuinness mentioned after Sunday’s game that he was content with ‘most’ of Donegal’s display, the obvious exception to that being the manner of the goals conceded by his team.
“We started off flying, but we dropped the guard a bit and got looser at the back,” McGee said.
“There were one or two mistakes made at that time and we got punished for them.
“We were never too worried. We never panicked. We do have plenty to look at from Sunday and we’ll have to analyse where those mistakes came from. Any time there was a mistake they got a score out of it and we have plenty to work on.
“Jim is pretty flexible and he has made wee tweaks and changes to the team and the system as we’ve gone through the League. It’s a learning process and at the same time we’re getting good, competitive games.”
Paul Grimley’s Armagh are in a relegation scrap heading into the weekend. For a county with their recent traditions, a drop to Division Three is unthinkable and McGee expects a battle royale at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
If he were in any doubt, history would confirm as much. The Gaoth Dobhair man has had plenty of rugged encounters with Armagh in his time.
For years they were the bane of their lives as it was at the hands of the Orchard that Donegal fell on many hard days. While Donegal did get a win over Armagh on the last day of the League in 2012 to stay up at the expense of the orange-shirted brigade, there have been painful times in the League for Donegal, to. Armagh inflicted an annihilation on John Joe Doherty’s Donegal in 2010, when they won 2-16 to 0-6 at O’Donnell Park.
“The League ones, I can’t really remember,” McGee said.
“I just recall that we couldn’t beat them when it counted in the Championship, bar that day in 2007. It’s definitely the Championship matches that I remember. We could never seem to get one over on them.”
In League terms, the stakes are high on Sunday and with the summer coming into sharp focus soon, McGee is relishing a joust laced with meaning. As Michael Murphy put it at the weekend, ‘there’s bite’ going into the game, one the Donegal skipper said ‘there is a lot on the line’ for.
“We’re not looking at anybody else and we’re just worried about our own corner,” McGee said.
“We’re going into Armagh and we know it isn’t an easy place to go. Armagh have pedigree and a lot of us older lads have plenty of history with them over the years to know all about that. They were a bogey team for us for long enough. It’s a game that we’ll learn a lot from. We have young fellas going to Armagh for a game that we need a result from against an Armagh team fighting for points. It’s a good place to be.
“We’re going to come up against high-quality players and it’ll benefit the young lads. It’ll tell them a lot about themselves. It’s a great opportunity to learn about playing Ulster teams in that sort of an environment.”
One of the young guns whose transformation to the senior team has been seamless is Odhrán MacNiallais, McGee’s club colleague from Gaoth Dobhair.
McGee said: “We always knew that he had it. It was a just a matter of whether or not he’d step up to it. He has gone to the level this year and has nailed down the spot. It’s been a good year for him and he’ll be a mainstay for Donegal in years to come.”
McGee has been in the trenches alongside Christy Toye since his inter-county career began and has been struck by the St Michael’s man’s return to the top level after suffering a torrid series of injuries.
McGee said: “You have to admire him and take your hat off to him. He had a serious run of bad luck and was out for a long time. He’s back putting in big performances and is one of our best players from the League. It’s a good story to be telling anyone who’s had a few knocks.”
Donegal took a few sharp blows last year. While the general perception was that relegation hadn’t particularly bothered them, the reality was much different.
“One of the wrongs that happened last year was that we were relegated and we’d like to put that right,” McGee says. The Donegal squad head for a training camp in Portugal next week and could have a League final, as well as their Ulster Championship opener against Derry, to prepare for.
“We just want to get back into Division 1 and to play the top teams,” McGee said, “but it would be brilliant to get a League final in Croke Park. For those boys to get a run out there with silverware up for grabs, that could give serious traction. Getting into the final would really help momentum.”