WE ALL REMEMBER the day, if our counties were lucky enough to win it, when the Sam Maguire come to school.
I was in secondary school when Paul Curran paid a visit, in 1995, with the famous trophy. Sam, a local hero and no maths class – good times.
Eamon and Neil McGee can vaguely remember a similar level of excitement when Sam arrived at their primary school in Gweedore 20 years ago.
Neil, who picked up his second Football All-Star award on Friday, admits he was too young to properly appreciate the moment but the brothers are enjoying the current trophy tour.
Eamon told TheScore.ie that the reality of winning the county’s first All-Ireland since 1992 is slowly dawning on him.
“It’s probably only sunk in in the last couple of days when you’ve had the cup in your house or in the car,” he said. “It’s brilliant to know that Sam Maguire is there after you worked so hard for it and you have something tangible to touch and say ‘We have it’.
“I took it into a school the last day. It was just me and the cup. It was a surreal moment, to have the Sam Maguire sitting there.
“Coming from three years ago when we were no-hopers, to have it sitting in the car and taking it into school. It really sank in then, it was a great feeling.”
Home as heroes
For Neil, the magnitude of Donegal’s achievement was impressed upon him on the bus journey back home from Dublin.
He commented, “We came home on the Monday and stopped for a bite to eat in Cavan but every town that we went through, they were out. There were bonfires lit and people out cheering us on. It was great to see, going through Fermanagh and Cavan. The support was unbelievable.”
It was Thursday night before the McGees landed back in Gweedore. Three days later and a club championship match against Glenswilly beckoned. The McGees, for the first time in about six months, were on the losing side.
Defeats came thick and fast with Donegal at the start of the year before the team’s evolution, based largely on scoring more goals while remaining rabid in defence, was complete. Eamon said:
We knew that ourselves, what we had wasn’t going to be good enough to win an All-Ireland. We knew we had to evolve and tweak our gameplan. It was still a tough start (to the year). I think we lost our first five games, between the McKenna Cup and our first two National League games. We eventually adapted. Jim obviously identified that we needed to get more scores and we got into it as the season went on.
“I suppose we were guilty of doing (the blanket defence) ourselves with Tyrone, when they were successful, copying their style of play. Armagh too. It never really worked for us and I suppose every team has to come up with their own style of play, one that suits the team and the players in it,” Eamon added.
Eamon McGee soaks up that winning feeling. (©INPHO/Cathal Noonan)
The defenders, who have been playing together since Under 8s (Neil, the younger brother, was advanced to play with the older lads), are determined to make winning a habit with Donegal.
“It’s nice and we’re enjoying it,” said Eamon, “but we know we have to go up and do it all again because it is going to be harder work than last year. We’ll savour it but in a relatively quick time and there are no better men than Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher to get us back into that zone.
Neil added, “The next challenge for us is to push on because we know what we did in the last year won’t be good enough for next year. All the top teams will be back. Kerry will be back and strong, Cork and Dublin too.”