Neil McGee has extolled the tonic-like virtues of the International Rules after September’s crushing All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry.
The All Star full-back and player of the year candidate hardly put a foot wrong this past season but felt as low as he’s ever been as a footballer after Donegal’s loss.
“Jesus, it was a tough week after it. Having then to go out and play the club championship. It was hard even to get into the car, never mind heading out to go out and play. It was not ideal. Once you got over the first game, it wasn’t as bad. But it is still quite fresh.
“You are thinking about coming up the road with the cup. Then for it not to happen, it was just a big blow. The way it happened, made it worse. We didn’t perform on the day. That was maybe the most hurtful thing.”
He doesn’t buy for a second that Kerry’s first goal came as a result of an intentional play. “Karl (Lacey) did well to get a block in. Your man (Stephen O’Brien) was going for a point. Because of Karl’s block, the ball fell short. A lot of people said it was a set-play. But if you watch it back, your man was going for a shot.
“Karl got a half block on it and the ball spun in on top of the edge of the square. We recovered from that goal and we got ourselves back into the game. The second goal was a big blow and we got it back to within a point but when they tagged on a few points, it left us with too much to do.”
It’s not that McGee, who could be given the role of marking 6ft8in Nic Naitanui on Saturday, isn’t taking his International Rules duty seriously. But he sees it as a escape valve from Donegal.
“It’s nice, you know, getting away from the pure intensity of county training. The sheer intensity of county training, you have to preparing yourself for it from first thing in the morning.
“We went out for a wee kickabout and a runabout, it’s enjoyable. Obviously we will pick the intensity up. But every time you go to county training, you nearly have to be focused from when you get out of bed in the morning, especially the way we have trained during the past four years and no doubt that is the way we will continue to train.”
McGee doesn’t see Rory Gallagher easing up now, having taken over from Jim McGuinness. “There are great footballers in the team. Coming up to things like this (International Rules), the Donegal footballers don’t look out of place. Whether it is Railway Cup or anything like that, none of us ever look out of place. We fit in well.
“Obviously, Jim brought us up to that level and he had a big part to play in it. But Rory is going to come in now and I suppose he will have his own ideas.
“He might keep some of the groundwork that Jim did but I am sure he will have his own ideas. We are looking forward to it.”
Maybe not January’s harsh pre-season work, though. As McGee recalls of earlier this year: “The first week in January is always the worst. I nearly passed out last year. I had to lie on the floor for about 20 minutes, I couldn’t move. That was the first training when I went back. Once you get your head around that, it is not too bad.”
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