BY FRANK CRAIG
Neil McGee says football has and continues to provide him with a positive distraction from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Donegal legend (34) shows no sign of slowing up even if he concedes that the road behind him is much longer now than what’s in front of him at this level.
He says it’s been a difficult time on and off the pitch as we all attempt to fend off the threat of the virus. Still, he says he’s glad that football, even in it’s current and precarious state, is lifting spirits.
He accepts there are no guarantees in the coming weeks. The revamped Ulster and All-Ireland series means we’ll see no ‘back door’ and no Super 8s.
McGee says the streamlined nature of that Championship race is exciting and it has the potential, if it can stay on track, to light up everyone’s winter and be the distraction that so many of us need at this most uncertain of moments.
“It could (be brilliant). As long as we get through it without Covid getting in the way. The potential is there for a brilliant Championship.
“It’s tight and it’ll be back to back. The next month or so, we’ll be seeing knockouts, games going to extra-time possibly even penalties. We’ve been forced to mix things up because of Covid but it could mean we’ve some serious drama and excitement. That is the hope any ways.
“There is a massive appetite out there for it to go ahead. You meet people on the road and they’re hoping, just like us, that it offers them something to really get excited about in the next number of weeks.
“I know it’ll be behind closed doors but they still can’t wait to watch it on TV or read about the build-up. It’s a wee distraction. We have the chance too to give the Donegal people a massive lift. There is that incentive as well.”
Donegal have had their own well documented issue with the virus and a case within the squad recently shut them down for a period of two weeks.
But McGee says the knowhow and the expertise of team doctor Kevin Moran, who is also a part of the GAA’s Covid-19 Advisory Committee, means there is little or no trepidation when ever he packs his gear bag and heads for the Tir Chonaill Training Centre in Convoy.
“Listen, we had our wee scare. It was very unfortunate. To be fair to Kevin and the medical team, they’ve really kept us in the loop with how to go about our business.
“The layout at training now and with how it is all set up, it couldn’t be any safer or any more professional. Kevin has the expertise and he is also a GAA man. So we’re very lucky to have him.
“It gives you peace of mind and it’s comforting to know when you leave the house that all that is being taken care of by Kevin and his team. We go into and leave a very safe environment.”
Meanwhile, the big talking point in GAA in the last week was the sight of former Donegal boss Jim McGuinness putting the Galway footballers through their paces in a leaked online video.
McGee – an All-Ireland winner in 2012 under the mercurial Glenties man – admits while some were surprised to see his former manager resurface in GAA circles, he wasn’t.
“I was a little (surprised) but it wasn’t a complete shock. If Jim McGuinness is home he’s not going to be sitting long before someone looks to use his expertise and skills.
“If it is the case that he’s in with Galway then they’re going to be an even more dangerous animal than they already are. I know personally what he brings to the table.”
McGuinness remains a very polarising figure in Gaelic football and there were some that scoffed at the simplistic nature of that short snippet of a hand-passing drill with the Tribesman. But McGee says those detractors are missing the point entirely.
“People criticising that drill aren’t getting it. It’s not about improving your hand passing. Anyone that’s ever been in that drill, first time out under Jim, soon gets the message.
“No one is laughing at the end of it. Under pressure, at serious intensity, it pushes you to your absolute physical limit. It’s about seeing simple mistakes then creep into your game. But if you can avoid simple mistakes when games are in the melting pot, you’ll have a much better chance of winning.
“If he’s in there he’ll bring them on that little bit for sure in terms of intensity.”
On the Donegal team finally getting to avail of the new Training Centre building at their base in Convoy, The Gaoth Dobhair man says it can only help in safeguarding Donegal’s place at the upper end of the pecking order in the current football standings.
“It’s an amazing facility. We’re getting to see it now, finally. And it has everything we need. I’m just happy that the younger and the underage Donegal sides going forward are now going to have a permanent home. It’s something to be really proud of.
“I spent years going from pillar to post, around the county, to so many different venues for training. I’d say I did more driving than anyone!
“You’d get a text at five in the evening saying, ‘we’re heading to here’ or ‘we’re heading there’. Just to have that base now, and it is a serious facility, it’ll give all those young lads a real lift just walking into it. It’s a professional set-up.”