Advertisement

He’s got two Sigersons, no degrees and strong opinions


OVER the past few years, increasing numbers of gaelic footballers have followed up retirement by becoming pundits.
2012 All-Ireland winner Rory Kavanagh recently joined Brendan Devenney, Declan Bonner and Martin McHugh in the press box.
They have all found their voice in retirement criticising, analysing and praising their former teammates.
Another member of the 2012 team who is now educating those who follow our national game is Eamon McGee through his weekly column in the Irish Daily Star, while he is also a regular contributor to both Newstalk and RTE radio sports programmes.
Over a period of almost twenty years, the teak-tough defender was a mainstay in defence for Donegal before finally calling time on his Inter County career last year.
Aged 33, he continues to line-out for his club Gaoth Dobhair (albeit as a full-forward these days) although he looks as he could still do a job for Rory Gallagher and Donegal.
“I could probably still get away with it against a Longford or Meath but not Dublin, Kerry or Mayo. The closer you get to Croke Park and playing the top teams, you need to be living a certain lifestyle and training a certain way and I’m not doing that,” he said.
The response is typical McGee – both candid and honest but not necessarily politically correct!
It’s Tuesday afternoon in Letterkenny and McGee has agreed to do an interview with the Donegal News.
Over the course of the next hour or so, he talks openly about among other things football, religion, science, alcohol, mental health, work, regrets and becoming a dad.
Alongside Karl Lacey, Eamon was the only member of the forty-odd group of players involved with the first Donegal U14 development squad to play senior Intercounty football.
While they won the first Buncrana Cup, success at Minor or U21 level never materialised.
“I’ve got two Sigersons and no degrees,” he quipped referring to a time when he was part of the successful Sligo IT team with young brother Neil, Christy Toye and Kevin Cassidy.
He was an Occupational Health and Safety student, but it was a time when you went to college to play football rather than study.
“Someone told me it was a handy enough course which suited me at the time,” he said.
Working with Optum (formerly United Healthcare) for the past three and a half years, Eamon is back studying Science, part-time, through the Open University. This time it’s on his terms.
“When I finish work it’s easy to get into the books rather than dragging yourself to do something you’re not motivated about. I love science but I also enjoy my work. The science degree is more of a personal thing,” he explained.
Science was a subject that Eamon enjoyed studying during his days in Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair. It was also a time when he was quite religious but now he finds the two to be incompatible. As a result, religion has taken a back seat.
“I’ve parked the religion – for a while at least. Some days I’m more of an atheist while other times I’m agnostic. That said, as I get older I realise that religion is very important to people and I’ve no problem with that. My issue with religion is its attempts to come in and dictate to society.
“If someone takes comfort in religion you have to admire that. I would never be one to try and get rid of religion. It’s just that it is not for everyone,” he said.
Last month, he declined an invitation to go Stateside and play football for the summer with Donegal Boston. Financially, it would have been a lucrative move.
“Yeah. I got an offer to go to Boston but with Joanne unable to get time off work and the baby (Daisy) it didn’t work out. It’s unfortunate. Joanne told me to go away by myself but I would have been away too long from the wee one. She’s at the stage where I don’t want to miss out. I’m a big softie behind it all and didn’t want to spent that much time away from them,” he explained.
Daisy recently celebrated her first birthday and Eamon is embracing fatherhood and all that comes with it.
“It’s amazing to watch her grow. It’s the wee things. I had been living in a big bubble for a large part of my life – a GAA bubble which I’m now realising isn’t as important as I once thought it was.
“I’ve learned that it’s important not to take yourself too seriously in the GAA. There’s a big bad world out there and when something like this happens (becoming a dad) you realise that and see it through their eyes,” he said.
However, he’s the first to admit that you wouldn’t have been able to explain that to a 25-year-old Eamon McGee.
“I wouldn’t have listened to anyone at that point in my life but I suppose it was a journey that I had to go through and, believe me, I’ve learned the hard way. If someone had told me to go right at that time I would have went left – simple as,” he laughed.

MENTAL HEALTH
That journey led to him abusing alcohol which brought with it associated mental health issues.
Those demons threatened to resurface once more last year shortly after he called time on his Donegal career.
“The alcohol was part of the culture back then. I’m certainly not trying to glamorise it and that’s why I’ve spoken openly about my mental struggles. I was in a dark place. Drinking was part of our culture – it’s part of the country’s culture – and what we did was to take it to the extremes and I suffered for it.
“There were good times but there were times when it was awful too. People will say that he must have been some craic when they read about the parties and the like but if they followed me for a few days afterwards they would have realised that I paid a heavy price for it. It was a struggle and if they seen me in the bad times it would put you off the drink. There’s a very dark side to it too,” he said.
Looking back on it now, Eamon accepts that there was a certain level of ‘mourning’ to be done once he took the decision to step away from the Inter-County scene.
“If I was left to my own devices I could have self-destructed once more but there were good people around me who helped me stay on the right path.
“It’s acceptable to be in mourning but I now know there’s no point in me turning to the drink. The threat of what could happen is not worth it. All for a few hours craic? So I try not to bother,” he said.
“I’ve got two good women and I don’t want to jeopardise that. I’ve done my fair share of it in the past. It’s time to move on,” he added.

SIDELINES
This is his first year watching Donegal from the sidelines. Does he miss it?
“I don’t understand people who say that football isn’t enjoyable anymore. I don’t understand that mentality of doing something for so many years if you don’t enjoy it.
“Once Daisy came on the scene together with the work and studies my time was limited. I didn’t mind the training so much it was more the meetings, the video analysis, the gym sessions. When I started checking my watch to see when it was over I knew then that I wasn’t getting as much enjoyment out of it as I should. If you’re going to do something you have to enjoy it – one hundred per cent – and I felt that it was time to go,” he said.

REGRETS
An All-Ireland winner in 2012, Eamon also played in the 2014 final defeat at the hands of Kerry. Any regrets?
“We’ve all got regrets. It’s how you deal with them. Some people toss and turn at night saying that they should have done this or that.
“Maybe if Donegal had taken things seriously – at the level we did for the past five or six years – we may of had a bit more success but that’s the journey we went on. We messed about for the first few years and only had a National League title to show for our efforts and that is a regret of mine but I’m at ease with it. I can sleep at night as it was part of the journey,” he said.
PRESS BOX
This year he started a weekly column with the Irish Daily Star. All of a sudden he’s no longer Eamon the footballer. Instead he’s Eamon the pundit.
“There have been things said about me since I started the column which have upset Joanne and people close to me but I have to accept that,” he said.
What about telling people what they want to hear or saying that black is white to raise a bit of controversy?
“I think you can only give your opinion and how you see it. There is no point going the way the wind is blowing for a sake of a few extra readers to the column. You have to stand by what you say and live with the consequences.
“I see a lot of that, even outside sport, where the people who shout the loudest get the most attention. It’s all about clicks on social media nowadays. They’re nearly rewarded for saying things which isn’t right.
“I think people should say what they believe rather that what they think people will want to hear to get a bit of controversy,” he added.

Eamon McGee and Harry Walsh in conversation earlier this week.

Advertisement

INTERVIEWEE
During his playing career, Eamon McGee was a reporter’s dream. Rarely, if ever, did he adopt the mundane scripted option.
“I always laughed at some of the lads who were like robots and threw out a few bits and pieces like ‘we went out and gave it our all’. I was always fairly comfortable with the media to say what I wanted to say although it sometimes got me in trouble with management.
“I might have been too revealing in terms of what we were up to – tactics wise – in the early days but I soon learned how to say how I felt without giving the game away too much,” he smiled.
Indeed, McGee was one of the few Donegal players who always took the time to speak with reporters post match – win, lose or draw.
“That was very important for me personally. We were quick to go out and get interviewed on the good day when people were patting you on the back but you can’t hide away when you’re disappointed or when things don’t go your way. You have to take it on the chin and move on. “Of course we were feeling sorry for ourselves but you can’t just ignore reporters either,” he said.
Since moving into the press box, he’s got a different perspective on the life of being a sports hack.
“Local media – sometimes – feel they have to watch what they say but I don’t think any media should be like that. If they see Donegal playing badly you have to call it. You shouldn’t be afraid to call it.
“I know that if you say something bad about Donegal many of the lads would take a huff and if you can’t chat to the County lads then that is your bread and butter, but I do feel that we (media) can only go on what we see and we have to make that call. No one is out to get the players. There’s no agendas. It’s not us against them,” he said.

DONEGAL 2017
Given all of the above what does he think about the team of 2017 and their chances against Meath this coming weekend?
“Everyone was pessimistic at the start of the year but the lads went out and proved the doubters wrong. They played a nice brand of football throughout the league and did well against Antrim before coming crashing down against Tyrone.
“It’s a tough lesson for the young fellas to find out that, maybe, they’re not quite a good as they thought they were. It means that they’ll have to work a wee bit harder. That said, they’ve good lads around them like Michael (Murphy), Neil (McGee), Frank (McGlynn) and Paddy (McGrath) to guide them and help them along,” he said.
Reflecting back on last weekend’s Longford game, Eamon admitted that they struggled to impose their game on Division Three opponents.
“Confidence was very low. They took a tanking against a Tyrone team that they would have viewed themselves as being better than. It’s all in the head now.
“They look a bit jaded – tired physically and mentally worn down – but a wee run in the qualifiers would do them the world of good,” he said.
Next up is a game in Navan against Meath, a team that Donegal have only met twice before in Championship football.
“Both teams have taken a fair tanking this year – Donegal against Tyrone while Kildare hammered Meath. They’re two teams who are brittle enough at the moment and it’s all about whoever smells blood the quickest this weekend.
“If Donegal play anything like they did against Longford they’ll probably lose. That’s the fact of the matter but if we can get the right men going – the likes Michael (Murphy) and Ryan (McHugh) – then we should have enough to beat them.
“You have to remember that we’re still a top six team and we’re better than Meath on paper. If we go back to what we’re good at doing we should be okay,” he said.
“It’s all mental now. The physical work has been done. The lads have all put in big shifts this year. They’re all fit. It’s now all about self belief and how they see themselves,” he added.

GAOTH DOBHAIR
Eamon will have to content himself with a place in the press box tomorrow evening before he returns to play for his club the following day.
“On paper, Gaoth Dobhair have as good a panel as any other club in Donegal. Now it’s all about getting a system that suits us and getting the players to believe that,” he said.
That system sees McGee lining out at the edge of the opposition’s square at full-forward and he’s enjoying the new role.
“I want to give a wee bit back to the club and I’m more involved this year, both on and off the pitch. We sat down at the start of the year and it was felt that we needed a bit more up front. You won’t be reading abut Eamon McGee scoring 1-8 in a game but I’m enjoying it. It’s not as pressurised and intense,” he said.

CLUB STRUCTURES
One aspect he’s not enjoying though is the ongoing fixture uncertainly that comes with being a club player.
“You can’t book your holidays. Joanne has booked a holiday for September but I can’t tell her when the Championship will be played. It’s not acceptable,” he lamented.
Since stepping away from the Donegal panel Eamon has also found time to play with his local soccer club Gweedore Celtic in the Donegal League.
“I can tell you their (Gweedore Celtic) fixtures for the next four to five months but with Gaoth Dobhair GAA club I haven’t a clue who we’re supposed to play in four weeks time.
“The organisation (GAA) employs full-time officials who should make this issue their priority. At the end of the day it’s GAA headquarters who have allowed this to happen. If the problem was unique to Donegal maybe we would have a gripe but it’s across the country and someone needs to step in now and take the responsibility of sorting out fixtures away from County Boards.
“The GAA says that it is all about the club player first when in fact, it’s shafting the club player. It’s hypocrisy,” he said.
McGee also believes that the county and club seasons will never be able to work as one.
“In an ideal world we would have an Intercounty season and then a club season but that won’t happen.
“Back to soccer, unless you have a very good excuse your match is never going to be called off on any given week. In the GAA, clubs are getting games called off because of a stag party!
“All I ever wanted to do was play football. As an Intercounty player that’s what happened but now that I’m a club player and I’m getting shafted and it’s annoying me.”

A national snow and ice warning came into effect this morning with temperatures reaching close to freezing in Donegal....

MOTORISTS are being urged to take extra care to ensure that their oil tanks are secure given the increase...

THE manufacturer of diabetes medicine, Abbott, is set to invest €130 million into a new facility in Donegal creating...

Top
Advertisement

Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. St. Anne's Court, Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland