No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Declan Bonner: McGee brothers the most fearsome men I’ve seen in a dressing room

Neil and Eamon McGee.

Neil and Eamon McGee.

IF I were heading out to war tomorrow morning, there are two men I’d ring before anyone else.

Going to the front-line I wouldn’t mind having Eamon and Neil McGee beside me.

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No better two men could you have beside you in the trenches. They’d dig the trench for you and then get into it with you for the war.

I’ve managed the two boys when I was in Gaoth Dobhair and, honest to God, they are two of the most fearsome men I have ever seen between the four walls of a dressing room.

It’s their sheer physicality, their height and their willingness to get into the combat that marks them out.

They are totally and utterly ruthless. I was an inter-county forward for fifteen seasons and I can tell you now I would not have wanted to come up against either of those two men.

They play with such pace, heart, passion and pure, raw intensity.

Eamon McGee once struggled for fitness but I would say now if you did a GPS test on him he’d be right up there. He is in the best shape of his career.

There are no better equipped players in Ireland to cope with Kerry’s forward line than the McGee boys. A lot has been made of Kieran Donaghy and James O’Donoghue and, while they’ll definitely pose serious problems for Donegal, I trust the McGee men to guard the treasure.

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They are indispensable, two of the few players who fall into that bracket.

Eamon struggled to get into the team in Jim’s first year, but he is a key man now. It’s a credit to Eamon how he has got to that level. He has been outstanding this year and will surely collect his first All-Star this year.

Neil won’t be far away either and he just performs now as a matter of routine. To me, they’re Donegal’s most important players at the moment. The level that their performance levels have gone to is frightening and the consistency of it has to be recognised.

The other man is obviously Michael Murphy. The work-rate of that man is phenomenal. He puts a huge amount in even when he doesn’t have the ball. For any young aspiring footballer, he is a real role model for attitude, commitment and just how you go about the game. It isn’t all about winning ball up there and kicking it over the bar – which he does so well – but it’s about the work he does all over the field. Any young lad should be handed a video of Murphy and told to watch that.

I feel that Kerry’s full-back line could be in trouble. There is a lack of pace there and I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy was left inside on Aidan O’Mahony for a period of time.

Cillian O’Connor of Mayo wrecked havoc inside and if Donegal are allowed do the same Kerry will be in huge trouble. Kerry’s full-back line has been exposed when the ball’s in the air and it is their achilles heel. Plus, Brendan Kelly hasn’t been inspiring a lot of confidence from the defence. This is where Donegal can really make hay – Colm McFadden and Murphy could get a lot of joy from these positions.

After twenty minutes of the game against Dublin, it was hard to see where Donegal success would come from. Dublin were playing with style and panache, kicking the ball over the ball at will from 45-50 metres.

They were causing huge problems and Donegal looked all at sea. Games turn on the finer moments. The save by Paul Durcan to deny Diarmuid Connolly, the introduction of Christy Toye, the goal by Ryan McHugh. Those three moments combined turned the tide and once Donegal got the lead they were in command.

The performance was brilliant thereafter and the display in the second half was as good as Donegal have ever played. They demolished Dublin.

What we can say for almost certainty is that Donegal will flood bodies back and will look to break out in numbers at speed.

I think Patrick McBrearty will be used as a sub again. He has been outstanding coming off the bench in the last couple games and he can really fly again on Sunday. Dublin didn’t know how to handle him the last day and he’ll be a key man, whether he starts or not.

The only area I would be a little bit concerned about would be the midfield. David Moran and Anthony Maher have been flying. Moran produced a storming midfield display against Mayo in the semi-final. There will be huge onus on big Neil Gallagher, but he’s well fit for it.

I think Kerry will probably target McHugh after his heroics in the semi-final. He has been brilliant all year and is heading for the Young Player of the Year award. Ryan has come into his own this summer and he has the in-game intelligence to avoid that sort of trouble, although I do think he’ll be one of the men pin-pointed by Kerry.

I’ve been talking to a few Kerry people and a few close to the Kerry senior camp too and I’ve been surprised by the reaction.

Traditionally, Kerry were so confident and heading into the All-Ireland final they’d usually just have that home-of-football attitude and swagger about them. This week, I got the sense that they’re just worrying and wondering: ‘What are Donegal coming with?’

They just don’t know what to expect.

They’re hearing so much about the way Donegal prepare and about this five-day training camp before the big game.
With Donegal this year, you just don’t know what they’re going with on a given day, but the days of you firing fifteen men out are gone.

Kerry ran Dublin very close in a cracker of an All-Ireland semi-final last year and even though they’re without Tomás Ó Sé, Paul Galvin and Colm Cooper they’ve shown themselves to be capable of competing at the top level. The way they stuck with Mayo and eventually got over the line was impressive in itself and Donegal will know they’re in a battle on Sunday.

There is real steel in Kerry now and I feel that Eamonn Fitzmaurice has changed Kerry – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He closed the gates of Fitzgerald Stadium to the public for training, something that was unheard of in Kerry beforehand. He made no apologies and stuck to his guns, even when the heat was turned up.

Eamonn is his own man and won’t be told what to do. Kerry were always regarded as a thing of beauty when it came to playing football, but they’ve certainly become more cynical. The ruthless edge was always on Kerry’s sword, but it can become cynical now too when the need arises.

That said, Jim McGuinness is two years further down the line in terms of what he has developed in Donegal and that will be a big advantage on Sunday.

I honestly believe that Donegal will win the match. It will be tight for long periods, but I think Donegal will pull away. They have a better bench and have players capable of coming in and contributing like McBrearty, Toye, Martin McElhinney and Darach O’Connor have shown.

Donegal doesn’t get the opportunity to play in an All-Ireland final too often. This is just out third in history on Sunday for the seniors and a first ever for the minors.

It’ll be a day to savour and what a weekend it’ll be for Donegal. The build-up to an All-Ireland is a special time and the amount of colour is amazing. It has been a huge lift to people from Donegal and there are people travelling in from all over the world just to be here for the games.

It will be a fantastic weekend to be a Donegal person in Dublin and you can but imagine what it would be like on Monday to be going back with two Cups…

A MAJOR APPEAL FOR MINORS

I WANT to make an appeal to Donegal people who have tickets for the big match: Please get in early and give your support to the Donegal minors in their final against Kerry.

It is important that Donegal have a big support for the minor game. It is a huge day in these players’ careers. Some of them are only 16, but what an occasion it is, the first minor final for Donegal. These boys are the future and a lot of them will play for the Donegal seniors.

Their attitude and commitment has been outstanding. I’ve really enjoyed working with them and I’d love to see a huge support in to get behind them.

Hopefully we can set the ball rolling for a great Donegal day and we can see Niall Harley go up the Hogan Stand to lift the Tom Markham Cup.

I again appeal to people: Please get in early and throw your voice behind the minors!

PADDY SHIELS

LOOKING at all the gaels of Donegal heading to Dublin this weekend, my mind can’t help turning to Paddy Shiels, who just over a year ago was hitting the winning score for Fanad Gaels in the Comortas Peile na Gaeltachta final. Paddy sadly passed away last week following an illness.

My sincere sympathy and condolences go out to his wife Colette, daughter Aoife, parents Mickey and Shiela, brothers and sister Michael, Brian and Kathleen and to all the family, his friends and club colleagues. He was a true gael and a real stalwart of the Fanad club. To have left at such a young age is just tragic.

I’m sure Paddy will be watching from the best seat in the house on Sunday.

May he Rest In Peace.

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