In the first of our Senior County Final Previews, Ball-X talks parish expectancy, a new crop of youngsters, and the sacrifices made to stay involved with Gaoth Dobhair’s Peter McGee…
“The pressure is always there, and that’s the way it’s always going to be. Football is the be all and end all up here” – Peter McGee
Next Sunday offers the footballers of Gaoth Dobhair the chance to put right a few wrongs, when the Gaeltacht Men go toe-to-toe with the Glenties in the Donegal Senior Football Championship Final at Mac Cumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
It’s been twelve years since the aristocrats of the North-West have contested a senior final, which for a club that has captured the title on a record equalling fourteen occasions, is simply too long.
Back in 2006, when they narrowly got past St. Eunan’s in what must be one of the worst county finals in history, Peter McGee was a teenager on the cusp of breaking into the senior side. A side, that looked sure to go on and reassert itself, as footballing kingpins in the county, having picked up their first championship in almost half a century four years earlier, in 2002.
On a day for the neutral to forget, a Stephen Cassidy rocket to the top corner and James Gallagher finding his range from the dead ball, hauled a wayward Gaoth Dobhair in front of Eunan’s late on. Kevin Cassidy lined out alongside Peter’s brother Eamon in the half-back line that day, with other brother Neil dominating at full-back. The three club-mates would become the backbone on which Donegal would build their Sam Maguire winning side, despite Cassidy’s now infamous exclusion, back in 2012.
Whilst recognising that Gaoth Dobhair will go into next Sunday’s clash as the bookies favourites, having racked up an amazing tally of 11-27 in their quarter and semi-final wins over Bundoran and Sean Mac Cumhaill’s, McGee says it’s the pressure to succeed that will keep his feet, and that of his team mates, firmly on the ground.
“The pressure is always there, and that’s the way it’s always going to be. Football is the be all and end all up here and there’s no doubt about it, we’ve underachieved. You only need to look at the players we’ve had over the past 20 years, that have only two championship medals to their name, and are no longer turning out. And the likes of Danny Curran in Dubai and Ciarán Ferry playing down in Meath, who will be missing out. So, it’s very easy for us to stay focused.”
The league champions’ road to fifteen has a pretty substantial block in it, in the shape of the Glenties, however. Having been only one of two sides to beat Gaoth Dobhair all year, and with the know-how of their own All-Ireland winning contingent of Anthony Thompson, Leo McCloone and ‘Brick’ Molloy to call upon, the 29 year-old is adamant that all eyes are trained only on the task in hand.
“Why would we be looking anywhere else? At the start of the year, we’d have probably picked out the Glenties and Kilcar as the two you’d have to come out on top of if you had any chance of picking up a county title. Kilcar have been desperately unlucky in losing Ryan (McHugh) and Paddy (McBrearty), which are two massive blows to them. But like ourselves I suppose, the Glenties have any amount of players with the ability to win big games, and having beat us in the league this year, and in the semi-final of the championship last year, there’s no doubt they’ll be thinking the game is there for them. It’ll be about winning the match-ups on the day, I’d think”.
A novelty that many football fans across the country, who might drop an eye onto next week’s game, will have to get used to, is the sight of Eamon McGee and Kevin Cassidy in forward roles. So dominant throughout his younger days as an enforcer at the back, Eamon, the eldest of the three boys, is now tasked with securing ball up front. But Peter tell us not to be expecting big scores from his sibling.
“I suppose given the role the two lads have played with the county over the years, it’ll be a surprise to some people. But Eamon has always been a genuinely good footballer. It’s worked out well for us this year because having him up there, with the experience of knowing how to outwit a back line, has opened up holes for our more explosive players like the two Boyles, Cian Mulligan or Odhrán (Mac Niallais) and that might be part of the reason, we’ve been able to manage a few big scores. But I wouldn’t be expecting any flamboyant scores or or anything like that from him”.
Continuing to play with his home club is something that the youngest of the McGee trio has found difficult over the past couple of years. Having passed out as a guard, Peter has spent the last couple of years stationed in Cavan, with appearances at training becoming more and more seldom as time went by. At the start of the season, he even confided in brother Neil that he was thinking of transferring to a club in the Breffni county, where he would oft time be seen training with Cavan Gaels.
“I was told in no uncertain terms to get down to the team meeting and that was that” – Peter McGee
“I made the mistake of mentioning to Neil that I was thinking about transferring to a club in Cavan, the night of Gaoth Dobhair’s team meeting at the start of the year. Needless to say it didn’t go down to well, and I was told in no uncertain terms to get down to the clubhouse and that was that. Look, it’s worked out for the best in the end. Not long after I got reassigned to Buncrana, so training has become a bit easier to get to”.
Peter, who has had to grow used to his role as a squad player over the last couple of seasons, is quick to point out that starting on the substitute’s bench is not a consequence of his move to Cavan, but more of the fierce competition within the Gaoth Dobhair forward line for a jersey.
“The talent of the young lads we have at the minute is unbelievable. They won the Ulster U-21 Club Championship at the start of the year and the intensity they take to training is just phenomenal. Players like Gavin McBride, Eamon Collum, Cian Mulligan, you know, we’re very lucky to have young lads like that at our disposal, and I suppose as one of the older heads in there, my job is as much about having a word or being there for advice, as it is about getting game-time.”
But that’s not to say he won’t be ready if and when the call comes from Mervyn O’Donnell (Gaoth Dobhair’s manager) next Sunday. One things for sure, Peter’s days of being the only McGee sitting around the home house table without a championship medal, could well be over. Certainly, if he has anything to do with it.