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McGee sets aim of delivering an Ulster triumph from frontline duty

By Declan Bogue

Eamonn McGee's first Ulster final was fairly public, played as it was against Armagh in Croke Park a full 10 years ago.

They weren't up to it then, he admits now.

"We always wondered why we could never get over Armagh. We came up with every excuse under the sun," he reflects.

"Occasionally we'd get a good performance, maybe get a draw with them and then started thinking: 'We're doing the right thing here.'

"At the end of the day, we just weren't up to the level the Armagh boys were at and Tyrone took it to a completely new level."

That was his first final and he was taken off for Karl Lacey. Two years later they were back in the same venue, same opposition, same result.

No Donegal player has a more chequered history with Ulster finals than McGee. In 2011, he was late returning to the squad and wasn't in the frame to claim a place for their first Anglo-Celt in 13 years in beating Derry.

The following season, he was injured for the decider against Down and again played no part.

Last season his place was locked down, but as he admits himself: "I was in a good frame of mind and playing reasonably well going into it and then Kieran Hughes roasted me, so that was the end of that."

Tomorrow, the 30-year-old Gweedore man is expected to renew hostilities with Hughes. He's not afraid to admit that an Ulster title, won on the field of play, would mean an awful lot to him.

"It's massive for me," he says.

"There is talk of scrapping the provincial Championships and in some cases you could justify it, but Ulster, without putting us on a pedestal, is set apart. It's so competitive.

"My two Ulster medals are pride of place. It's great for a man who has gone through the years and won nothing bar the League to be able to add a competitive provincial medal – something that every team is gunning for."

In Monaghan, they meet a team that is their mirror image. Last year, McGee noted that teams would be wasting their time trying to ape the Donegal style as they were so polished with it, but then Monaghan took them down.

Now, he accepts it as an inevitability.

"You don't want to sound too vain, but you have to be realistic and what we did in 2011 and 2012 was something a lot of teams took notice of," he explains.

"We came from nowhere. They could see that we put the hard work in and got the results. The teams who were knocking on the door said: 'Jeez, if we start to do this...' They would have taken great hope and belief from us."

Tomorrow, no fewer than nine players from the Gweedore club will feature for Donegal in the minor and senior squads. It's a source of pride to McGee that he sees the likes of Odhran MacNiallais breaking through.

"I had him earmarked as another Ciaran McDonald with that left foot and creating things. He's shown that he's just as potent inside. He's a very good scoring threat and he proved that in the semi-final.

He adds: "I'm definitely not surprised. You could see from a young age that he was going to be special.

"Everybody in Gweedore knew that. It was a case of marrying the ability with the attitude that's required for an inter-county player.

"He's done it and made the step up."

Just one more step to go.

DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Eamonn McGee, Neil McGee, Ryan McHugh; Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath; Martin McElhinney, Christy Toye; Rory Kavanagh, Leo McLoone, Odhran MacNiallais; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy (Capt), Colm McFadden.

MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan; Ryan Wylie, Drew Wylie, Colin Walshe; Dessie Mone, Vincent Corey, Fintan Kelly; Dick Clerkin, Darren Hughes; Paudie McKenna, Stephen Gollogly, Paul Finlay; Dermot Malone, Kieran Hughes, Conor McManus (Capt)

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