The senior figure of the McGee football clan is also regarded by many as the one of the most stylish footballers to represent Donegal in recent times.
Eamon McGee, at his best, is delightful to watch as he glides through a game. Few will forget the way he dealt with Mayo’s first attack in the All-Ireland final last September, brushing aside challenges as he won possession at his own endline and close to the sideline. It would have been a tricky corner for an ordinary defender, but for McGee, it was an opportunity to set Donegal in motion.
Not only did he win the ball and brush off the attacker, but he set in motion the move that led to Michael Murphy firing to the roof of the net at the other end.
The goal put Donegal in a good place just minutes into the All-Ireland final. It also allowed McGee put down a marker as to who would be boss in front of the Donegal goal for the 70 minutes.
It was a fitting climax to a good year for the Gaoth Dobhair man. It all came together as Donegal got through Ulster and McGee played a starring role for Donegal in their Croke Park exploits in August and September.
Now, some nine months later, McGee continues to be in that ‘good space’ which he felt he was in for those big games last year. With old foes Tyrone on the radar, he is reallly looking forward to another battle.
“I’m in a good space at the moment. I had that wee knock (hamstring) a few weeks ago and it threw me for six, because I was very happy with where I was at.
“I had a good league campaign behind me, but one week back and I was flying again. It’s the same with Karl (Lacey) and the rest of them. They are all top class players and there is no fear of anyone not being up for it,” said Eamon, looking forward to the big game on Sunday.
It is a much better situation for McGee at the start of this year. It is probably the first time that he has had an extended run in the Donegal jersey in quite some time and he feels that is down to doing the right things last winter.
“I probably struggled going into the championship last year with injuries and just didn’t get a good proper run at it. I looked after myself during the winter there, because at the end of the day we’re not going to be about for long, and really now I just have to be careful, get into good shape and staying there.
“There is no point in staying in good shape if you can’t deliver on the 26th May, so that’s the target.”
Anyone who was in Healy Park, Omagh, in March of this year for the clash of the counties in the Allianz National Football League, will know that the rivalry between Donegal and Tyrone continues to grow. Donegal have knocked Tyrone off their perch as provincial kingpins and the Red Hand men under Mickey Harte are fighting to get their status back.
Even though it was only a league encounter, the clash of the McGees (Eamon and Neil) with Stephen O’Neill and company in March was close to championship intensity and you can multiply that intensity by ten when the teams take the field on Sunday next.
Eamon McGee feels that Tyrone have improved considerably over the last two years. Donegal have taken their scalp at the Ulster semi-final stage on those two occasions, but only by a small margin.
“Definitely, they have come back, not to say that they were far behind. They gave us two tough games the two years in-a-row. I think we will have to lift it another notch. What we did in last two years will not be good enough to put Tyrone down. We will have to find another level; whether we can find it or not should be answered in the next few days of training or whatever.”
McGee, along with his teammates, were away in Johnstown House in Meath last week preparing for the battle and he feels the training camps are vital preparation for these big games.
“They are very important. I can understand people can look at things and say in the enviroment today, how can they justify this. I think it gives us a great opportunity. I think that training camp we had before the All-Ireland was extremely important; to get away from everything. You are in your own wee bubble and can work on things.
“Sometimes, you are planning on going to training; on how to get home again. But in the camp it’s all about Donegal for the few days you are there. I think it is very, very important,” said Eamon.
Getting into the right frame of mind for the big games is important and the Gaoth Dobhair star says he gets a lot of satisfaction when he plays well in big games.
“In general if you work really, really hard for a game and you put in a big effort and you get into a good space and it works out.
“After the All-Ireland I said that I knew I would have a good game. I had put the work in and was prepared mentally.
“I had nerves in the morning (of the All-Ireland) alright. I couldn’t sleep and got up at 6 o’clock. I went in and had a chat with Michael Boyle and he told me to ---- off. That was the height of it. Once I got back to sleep, I was alright,” said Eamon.
“It is coming into that same sort of situation now. It wouldn’t be as manic as the All-Ireland, but it’s still the same kind of mindset. The fans are on about tickets; the Ballybofey and Clones thing; the Donegal-Tyrone thing, two genuine contenders meeting in the first game. It will be fever pitch near the time and it’s important to stay focussed on the game.
“It’s two genuine All-Ireland contenders meeting in the first round. It’s two teams wanting to make a statement. Tyrone have a lot to prove; we have a lot to prove after the league. People have started questioning us so it’s a big game for both.”
McGee is really happy to be playing the game in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, but would have no worries where it was played.
“I think it’s very important. Personally it doesn’t bother me where it’s played as long as we have the training done. I think it’s important for the All-Ireland champions to go out on their home patch in the first round if they’re drawn there. I think there was a lot made about it and the GAA have to be commended for taking a financial hit, just giving it Donegal.
“If you were looking at it now, Tyrone would be the favourites. But listen, we know where we’re at. We’re going well at training and the vibe is good at training,” said McGee, who said it was disappointing to be relegated at the end of the league.
“We quickly picked ourselves up. We got the dogging done and we’re happy enough where we are at now.”
When Donegal and Tyrone meet there always plenty of banter and the McGees are noted for having a few friendly words with their opponents, withing them well in the game, etc.
In a recent interview Eamon was very complementary of former Tyrone star, Ryan ‘Ricey’ McMenamin vocubulary, who is regarded as the ‘King of Sledging’, as it is known in the football world.
“It was a compliment. I would know Rice very well. He has it down to an art and it’s a bit of banter. I always loved the story where Ricey was marking Brian McGuigan in a club game. Ricey scored a point and came out and started shouting at McGuigan, ‘who’s marking Ricey? Who’s marking Rice?’. That’s what I aspire to.
“I said before as long as you don’t take it personally. You have to do anything that you can get that wee edge on a boy. You might meet a fellow who is genuinely a better footballer than you, so you to get some wee edge on him to put him off. I’m here to win and get medals and whatever I have to do, I’ll do that.”
But apart from the banter, there also has to be an intense focus on the game and Eamon is really looking forward to the challenge.
“We’ve met All-Ireland winners before and we understand the psychology of meeting All-Ireland winners. You have to prove to yourself and get one over on them. We know what to expect from the likes of Tyrone and we will try to counteract it.”
Many would feel that McGee was very unlucky last year not to have picked up an All-Star for his displays, especially at the business end of the All-Ireland Championship. Under Jim McGuinness he has been used in a number of positions, but mostly as a man marker, which probably limits his ability to show his full repertoire of Gaelic football skills. But, while he admitted that his personal choice would be the No. 6 jersey, he is happy to fill in where needed.
“I think I’ll give the old cliche, anywhere I get a jersey. I would take the No. 6 any day of the week. I’m just happy to be part of the plans and happy to be in there and that Jim has the confidence in me.”
As for missing out on an All-Star last year and the desire to get one in 2013, he quickly replies: “We’ll worry about the 26th May first.