Eamon McGee admits he and his brother Neil were unwilling to sign a public statement suggested by the Donegal panel to back manager Jim McGuinness in the wake of the fallout with former star, Kevin Cassidy, in 2011.
McGee opted away from inter-county football in the wake of Donegal’s defeat against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final in August.
Last month he caught up with his former county and Gaoth Dobhair team-mate, Cassidy, who is a columnist for Gaelic Life, for a one-on-one interview that was published yesterday.
“It was a tough time for us,” McGee said of 2011. “Do we back up our friend and clubmate of all them years or do we stay true to the group and to what Jim was actually trying to achieve? That’s ultimately what it came down to.
“We were selfish but you (Cassidy) were also wrong, in my eyes anyway.
“The squad actually wanted to send out a public statement backing Jim but me and Neil wouldn’t go with it. It was a small consolation.
“I always regret that whole fallout because there would have been no better person I would’ve enjoyed the whole journey with than yourself.”
Cassidy, who conducted the interview at Teach Mhicí in Bunbeg, Gweedore, was removed from the Donegal panel in November 2011 for taking part in a book written by Declan Bogue called This Is Our Year, which documented that year’s Ulster championship through the eyes of its participants.
The split between manager and former captain was an acrimonious one at the time and it cost Cassidy, who won his second All-Star in McGuinness’s first season in charge in 2011, an All-Ireland title a year later.
No public statement from the Donegal panel was ever released.
“It’s no secret our friendship has deteriorated in recent times,” Cassidy said.
“I would still class you as a friend but just not as close as we once were.
“I just felt that as a close friend you failed to do for me what I had did for you many times during our careers when we had disagreements with management.
“I would never have expected ask anyone to take drastic actions on my behalf but it was the lack of an offer that disappointed me most.”
McGee replied: “Looking back now I still believe you were in the wrong but maybe I could have chatted to Jim and said my piece but I didn’t and that’s part of life. You aren’t given a manual to deal with these situations.”
McGee went onto admit that Donegal’s loss to Kerry in the 2014 All-Ireland final left a ‘scar’ on his career.
And the failure to capture Sam Maguire for a second time is something the Gaoth Dobhair defender will just have to ponder in his retirement.
McGuinness’s Donegal upset the football world when they defeated a heavily-fancied Dublin 3-14 to 0-17 in the 2014 All-Ireland final only to lose 2-9 to 0-12 in a drab final against Kerry.
Kieran Donaghy intercepted a short kick-out from Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan to score a vital second-half goal while McGuinness’s team were denied a replay when Colm McFadden’s slap at goal struck the base of the post in injury time.
“2014 is a real scar on me as a footballer and my sports career,” McGee said. “If Colm’s shot at goal had been an inch to the left, if ‘Papa’ (Durcan) had went long we would have won.
“We could have pushed the bounds to being a great team by winning it again, so rather than being on the same level as the great Tyrone team of the ‘noughties’ we are on par with the Armagh team of the ‘noughties,’ which is no bad thing.”
Donegal made that year’s All-Ireland final without 2012 All-Star and sweeper Mark McHugh, who opted to travel to the United States to play for Donegal New York that summer in the wake of the 2014 Allianz League Division 2 final loss against Monaghan.
McGuinness, the previous September, back in 2013, had opted to change his All-Ireland winning backroom team, with Rory Gallagher — the current Donegal manager and assistant in 2012 — one of those to part company with the set-up.
“We definitely would have been in a better spot if we had them two men (McHugh and Gallagher),” McGee added. “Jim is Jim, and Jim did what he felt was right; agree or disagree, that is Jim’s character and you have to take the good with the bad.”
Although McGee has retired from county football at 32, he feels he can still give plenty to his Gaoth Dobhair club, although stressed the landscape of the GAA leans firmly towards the county nowadays.
“I feel club players are getting shafted all over the county,” he added.
“I’ve never got the balance right and one of the reasons I retired was to try and give something back to the club while I was still half-decent.
“The GAA is catered toward the inter-county game. That’s fair enough but why be hypocritical and say we are all about the club when our actions are the complete opposite?
“If the GAA are serious about clubs at county and national level, then they should start acting like it.”
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