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Donegal's Eamonn McGee is not afraid to play mind games with Kerry ahead of All-Ireland Football final

Coming out of the shadows...

By Declan Bogue

The ball may not yet have been throw in to the fray at Croke Park but one of Donegal's key men has thrown the first verbal punch in anger at Kerry in this year's All-Ireland final.

"Let's call a spade a spade here, I'm not going to be remembered as one of the top 10 players in Donegal. Any edge I can take and anything I can do to put my opponent off I'll take it," says full-back Eamonn McGee on using a bit of chat to get inside the minds of opposing players.

And then, referencing Belfast Telegraph Gaelic Games columnist Ryan McMenamin, he adds: "I hate to give 'Ricey' credit but he pioneered the whole thing."

One early fond memory the 30-year-old Gweedore man has of football was being part of the Vocational Schools team that beat Kerry in 2002. He played alongside Karl Lacey, his brother Neil and Paul Durcan in what he recalls as "an unbelievable team."

One thing stood out about the opposition though, even at that age: "I remember that game very well. They carried themselves the same way Kerry teams do." McGee was up against Martin Ferris' son that day. Gave him a little bit of chat, got inside his head, got the job done.

He is first to admit that some days frustration gets the better of him. "I never want to take it to a personal level. Some days I have let myself down. If I take it to a personal level the man I'm marking knows I'm beat," he confesses.

On other occasions, it has strayed into lashing out. Last year, with Donegal a beaten docket in Croke Park to Mayo, he put his boot down the neck of a prostrate Enda Varley.

A couple of weeks later when Mayo were playing Dublin in the final he avoided it completely by playing soccer that day for Gweedore Celtic.

Another man got inside his head during the game. So he let him have it off the ball. It was spotted. Red card. A rotten year bookended.

But now he is back. Donegal are back and their attitude is definitely back.

Just as they were leaving the Croke Park pitch at half-time, having turned Dublin's five-point lead into a one point lead for themselves in what felt like a blink, the cameras picked up McGee having a word with Eoghan O'Gara. He was telling him that Paul Mannion was warming up to take his place. Ouch.

He isn't always as switched on. Nobody could be. Working for United Healthcare in Letterkenny, he is close to the buzz and the fuss. And in the evenings he returns to one of the most fanatical GAA parishes there is in Gweedore.

"You nearly have to pick and choose times or pick what shops you go into. Coming up to it I took the key out of the door and just locked myself into the house," he reveals.

"You need to separate yourself from the madness side of if or the fun side of it." That includes banquet and final tickets, "this sort of nonsense – and that's all it is, nonsense".

"In 2012 I had a nightmare of a training session, mainly as I had a lot on my mind with tickets and stuff. It was good to get it out of the way. I realised I had to cop on a bit and it was a good kick up the ass."

Instead, he has a job to do.

At 6ft 2in and 13.5 stone, he is giving away a bit on Kieran Donaghy, the man most expect McGee to mark in Sunday's final.

"Sometimes the mistake people make is that they try to get into a wrestling match with him when the ball's in the air. You have to realise you aren't going to move him," he says of Donaghy. "He's an unbelievable player. You just don't know where he's going to start or who's going to pick him up. Hopefully whoever gets the job will be ready."

In 2012, his brother Peter was on the county squad. Back then he was listed as 6ft 5in with 16 stone to support it. An identical match to Donaghy.

It's put to Eamonn that he might go down to the local pitch to practise a few balls rained down on top. "That's a good idea actually!" he says.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Either way, he will spend the latter half of this week getting away from it. He may read some Nietzsche – they are different up there in Donegal nowadays – but he will definitely get down to the beach in Magheragallon and jump in at the pier.

Bobbing in the water, surrounded by the nature that provides all the inspiration he needs, the madness of Croke Park will be a million miles away.

Bliss. For now.

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