BY CHRIS MCNULTY
EAMON McGee ventured to Belfast on Monday night for an event that reveals much about the deep-thinking Gaoth Dobhair man.
Scientists and atheist activists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss were at The Strand Arts Centre for a screening of their documentary, ‘The Unbelievers’, which follows their pair around the world as they encourage people to shed religious and politically motivated approaches to life.
Both Dawkins and Krauss are fascinating characters. So too is McGee, for whom seeing really is believing.
“It’s something that I have an interest in very closely,” says the 30-year-old.
“I read a lot of their books and I’ve a close interest in the science of it, their beliefs, or their lack of beliefs as such.
“There was nothing clashing so I said I’d go up. It’s something, on the science side of it, that I’ll probably get involved in at some stage. It was enjoyable, the talk. They were talking about a subject that I could relate to. It’s not often at the back of the bus you’d get to talk about physics or biology – I don’t think the card school would take that too well!”
It takes a lot for McGee to believe.
It wasn’t until the end of the National League in 2011 that he had his ear turned by Jim McGuinness. McGee was playing in Division 4 for London, but the thoughts of home were crowding his mind as he heard the stories from his brother, Neil, club-mate Kevin Cassidy and others like Neil Gallagher. Maybe things were different this time, after all.
He kicked his heels until the autumn when he finally saw a slice of action. He knew he’d been fortunate to be back in the fold. The nettle was grasped.
The enigmatic McGee made his 100th appearance for Donegal in the All-Ireland final of 2012 and has been one of the county’s most consistent performers in big games. It took the seeing for him to believe in McGuinness’s ways.
He had a lot to thank the Glenties man for, but it hasn’t taken him long to warm to the new regime, headed by McGuinness’s former assistant, Rory Gallagher.
“Rory has filled the void and he’s up for the challenge,” says McGee, who committed to the cause once Gallagher was ratified as manager.
“The same men are still driving the dressing room: Michael Murphy, Karl Lacey and big Neil (Gallagher).
“The boys about that dressing room want to be there at the business end of the year. Every man has grand ambitions, of course. After the last regime, we have no inferiority complex any more.
“You’re always wondering after a season about what you’ll do. As the winter went on, that was soon dispelled. Once Rory came into the job, I was 100 per cent on board. We haven’t lost that many players and it’s great that Rory has been given the chance without a whole heap of men leaving the panel. He’s been impressive so far now. Everything is so professional. It’ll be tough to get back to where we were, but we always knew that was going to be the way. Everything has been ticking the right boxes so far.
“It’s taken a wee bit of extra work to get up to the level required – as the years tick on, the demand on you feels a little bit extra. Rory has been patient with us, though, and we’re confident we’ll get back to where we need to be.”
A hip injury after a punishing season had McGee laid up for much of the winter, but the United Healthcare employee, unlike perhaps the McGee of the pre-McGuinness Donegal, has managed it well and is determined to hold down his spot in Gallagher’s team.
He says: “Ach, I’m happy-ish with where I am. I was never one for wintering well. I was always slow enough to get back to where I should be fitness-wise. I know that I’m not guaranteed a spot and there are boys there like Eamonn Doherty and Conor Parke who are champing at the bit to play so I can’t be running around having an easy week with those boys breathing down my neck.
“It will take time, but we’re putting the work in. Paul Fisher is going great work with us at the minute.”
The All-Ireland final defeat by Kerry left a deep wound that was slow to heal. As the weeks wore on, though, he managed to put the demons to bed, although it still lingers. You wonder if it’s been hard to pick up the pieces given how the season drew to a shuddering halt on the final day after reaching for the stars against Dublin in the semi-final just three weeks previously.
He says: “It depends what way you view it. You can just take all the negative out of it and let it really effect you or you can just say ‘bugger this’ and work hard on getting better and not let it leave such a sour taste. The game, the defeat will always be in the mind.”
Donegal have had a mixed bag so far in the League, the opening night’s win over Derry followed by a six-point loss against Dublin on a night when Donegal kicked the game away.
McGee says: “We were delighted to get the result against Derry, coming from where we were and getting back into training fairly late. Dublin in Croke Park at this time of the year isn’t a game you’d pencil in for two points. It would have been nice to win it. We’re working on a lot, though, and we know we’ve a long way to go.
“I think the way things have been going it would be nice to get as much competitive football under our belts in the League, maybe get into the knockout part of it, as possible. Really, the eyes will be on the Tyrone game, but we have to remain as competitive as we can for as long as possible and keep the foot on the pedal. If you let it off it can be very hard to find the right level again.”
Unbeaten Cork are in Ballyshannon this week and the Rebels are an opposition that McGee relishes, given the unpredictability of them. He recalls some of the big jousts with Cork over the years, like the League meeting in 2012 defined by Murphy’s early goal, that epic, never-to-be-forgotten All-Ireland semi-final the same year or there was the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final ‘when Donncha O’Connor gave me a cleaning – that was a big education to get a lesson like that’.
He says: “Against some teams you’re always marking the same boy, but with Cork it could be anyone. I’ve had (Daniel) Goulding and (Colm) O’Neill, too. They’re all difficult – Cork have some quality players.”
McGee loves the dark side of things and is generally the man put on the opposition’s biggest aerial threat and the influence waged by Kieran Donaghy in the All-Ireland hurt McGee, named by Gallagher alongside Karl Lacey as a vice-captain to Murphy this year. McGee was unfortunate to miss out on an All-Star in 2012 and again last year and, while brother Neil has three to his name (2011, ‘12 and ‘14), there are few complaints from the elder sibling.
He says: “People have been on about the All-Star, but it doesn’t bother me. Of course it would have been nice to get it, there’s no point me bullshitting and saying I wouldn’t have wanted one – but those kind of things are so far from what our group is about. We’re all about the group. Like, if Colm McFadden has a shot on goal with a 60 per cent chance of scoring and he has Christy Toye inside with an 85 per cent chance – that ball will go to Toye. We’re part of a good group like that.
“It’s nice to be recognised with people saying I should have got this or that, but I know myself where I fell down: I gave away a goal in the semi-final in 2012 and the All-Ireland final last year cost me.”
Ever the realist.