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Sunday 20 January 2019

McGee won't gloat even as Donegal eclipse teams that 'would have laughed at us'

SO much has changed since Neil McGee first became a Donegal senior footballer, back in the meandering mid-noughties.

The attitude of the players has been transformed ... and so, too, has outside opinion of them.

The former stereotype - that of feckless performers who liked to party - is so old hat that you'd almost forget you are talking about the same county, let alone some of the same players.

That's the inevitable by-product of three Ulster titles, a first All-Ireland title in two decades - and qualifying for a second September showpiece, against Kerry this Sunday.

"It's true that a lot of those teams probably would have laughed at us, looked down on us," says McGee.

HUMBLE

"To get up to their level and maybe above them now is great, but it's not something we would gloat about. We wouldn't be that kind of person - we would be a very humble bunch - and we're just glad where we are and we're going to make the most of it."

That, he expands, is why there was no gloating after Donegal took out the 1/9 favourites from Dublin in this year's semi-final.

"They had been beating teams by 15-16 points so they probably deserved to be up there," the Gweedore man reasons. "I suppose we just caught them on the day, and we prepared brilliantly for that game. I can't say they took us for granted either. They didn't under-perform - I thought they played well."

There is, of course, another reason not to dance on Dublin's grave. Been that soldier, as they say: Donegal are acutely aware of the perils attached to defending Sam, having suffered that 16-point trauma against Mayo last year.

Beforehand, McGee thought they weren't too far off the mark. Afterwards ... well, everything had to be reassessed. Before this year's quarter-final, they had twice the number of training sessions completed compared to the same juncture last season.

"So it goes to show we probably weren't at the level last year. That's probably normal - it was our first All-Ireland in 20 years and we weren't used to it," he surmises.

For this season, they went back earlier and also upped the volume of sessions. The benefits are there for all to see - McGee, a back-to-back All Star in 2011 and '12, is hotly fancied to make it a hat-trick next month.

That said, those credentials will be fully tested on Sunday, with the likelihood that McGee will be tracking potential Footballer of the Year James O'Donoghue with his elder brother and fellow full-back, Eamonn, a more likely marker for Kieran Donaghy in the event that the revitalised 'Star' starts on the edge of the square.

Donegal's stunning demolition of Dublin has established them as the bookmakers' choice, but McGee pleads caution.

ANALYSE

"Looking at it from the outside you might have thought it was a great performance," he says, "but once we sat down to analyse it, there would be parts of the game we would not be happy with.

"Conceding 17 points is a lot for this team over the years, with a couple of exceptions. The Dubs are a top-class team, no doubt about, and with the scores they have been racking up all year, they will definitely be back again."

But Dublin's ability to may early hay via long-range points, instead of engaging with Donegal's defensive screen, was duly noted.

"Kerry are going to have exceptional long-range kickers too," he warns. "They are all capable of striking the ball over from fifty yards so it is something we have to work on."

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