Just as on the field, McGee doesn’t shirk the hard questions

Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht colossus Neil McGee does not duck out of tackles, or shy away from the “hard questions.”

Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht colossus Neil McGee does not duck out of tackles, or shy away from the “hard questions.”

As the press gathered in Jacksons Hotel, to try and gauge the mood before the big one against Derry, the usual championship clichés are being polished against a background where four players left the panel and a fifth is out through suspension.

Add in late news that Neil Gallagher has gone over on an ankle and you can see why there could be some niggling negativity.

Donegal have once again been in the speculation headlines ahead of a crunch clash with Derry on Sunday.

Mark McHugh, Rory Kavanagh, Antoin McFadden and Gary McFadden have all departed apparently of their own volition while Rory Kavanagh misses the Derry match through suspension.

Twenty four hours before the press night, McGee’s Gaoth Dobhair clubman Kevin Cassidy publicly suggested that Donegal should try and cajole Mark McHugh back into the panel as he is vital to their cause.

McGee pauses very briefly before saying that there were “suggestions that there were rows.

“There were no rows.

“Mark was not enjoying his football.

“There is not much we can do and you cannot hold it against him.

“It’s a massive commitment and he is at college and his head was maybe not in the right place.

“Hopefully he will get his hunger back and the door is always open for him.

“He has been a pivotal player for us for the past few years and nothing has changed.

“I have been chatting to Mark and he said he was going to keep his head down and go with the club.

“Please God he will get the hunger back”.

“The mood is good but Donegal seems to always get in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

“It gets blown up a lot.

“We are well used to it at this stage; it is not as we have not experienced it before but we are keeping the head down.”

Two weeks ago Donegal were emphatically dismissed in the National Football League Division Two final by Monaghan- a reversal that McGee admits was most disappointing

“We trained hard when we were away in the Algarve.

“Monaghan are a tough team and there is no point in dwelling upon it.”

Donegal crashed and burned against Monaghan and Mayo in last year’s championship and McGee does not want any repeats.

“It was something that had been building up all last year.

“We were stretched to the limit.

“We probably peaked for the Tyrone game and then we had three weeks with our clubs and a lot of boys picked up injuries.

“As we look back we had a great chance to win three Ulster title on the trot and when we look back that will be one of the most disappointing things.

“But we have just to get on with it.”

The introduction of the black card has not unduly fazed McGee.

“It has not made all that much of a difference to us in defence and I would say that it has affected the middle third a lot more.

“We did concede a few goals in the League but overall it was successful apart from the final against Monaghan,” he said.

Donegal face into the tie against Derry as underdogs, something McGee is happy to comply with.

“Derry are favourites or it is at least 50/50.

“At the start of the year we might have been favourites, but Derry were at the top of Division One and were playing against quality opposition.

“They did not have a great day against Dublin but not too many counties would but I am sure that they will not be dwelling unduly on that.

“Knowing Brian (McIver) he will have them well focused,” he added.

And McGee has nothing but the height of respect for his former boss.

“We were disappointed about how he was treated that time and that is no secret.

“We were looking forward to having another year with him and he was badly treated at that meeting, whatever happened.

“We all had great time for him.

“He’s a great man on the line and he is a great man manager.

“He brought an organisation that we did not have before and you can see what he has done for Derry.

“They are a completely different animal than when we played them in the Ulster championship two years ago.”

And what of the future?

“We always found that the best way to get to Croke Park was through the front door.

“But going in to Croke Park as Ulster champions was a massive thing psychologically.

“It was a great boost for us and gave us great confidence.”

Previous visits had been pretty hairy.

“Last year we were confident against Mayo but they really wanted us and it showed on the day.”

This year less is expected from Tir Chonaill.

“Monaghan beat us in the League final but if we beat Derry there won’t be a word about it.

“Nobody is giving us much of a chance but we are training well and everything is positive within the camp.

“We have achieved promotion but if you stay at League pace in the Championship you will get blown away.

“You need to get us at full pelt, and that is something Jim McGuinness has mastered over the years and that is getting us right for the championship.”

Just like Neil McGee, as candid and eloquent as Errigal any day!