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Donegal's McGee brothers all set for hottest test of the lot

By Declan Bogue

Donegal have faced the finest array of attacking talent so far this season, but they have yet to come up against the hottest forward this season in Kerry's James O'Donoghue.

Sunday will tell us much about that, but in the meantime, it can hardly be said that the McGee brothers, Donegal's two inside-forward markers, have had a handy time.

So far, Eamonn and Neil have faced Eoghan O'Gara, Bernard Brogan, Jamie Clarke, Bam Neeson, Emmett McGuckin, Cailean O'Boyle, Conor McManus and Kieran Hughes. And they have only conceded four points from play to those opponents.

Conor McManus was one of those who managed to get one of them, a second half point in the Ulster final. Many failed completely, such as Clarke and either of Derry's two inside men.

The previous year, McManus did not score from play when Monaghan beat Donegal in the Ulster final, so he is best placed to tell us about their abilities.

"They snuff out all the space," he explained.

"People talk about the Dublin forwards but it doesn't matter what forward you are and what system you have, if there is no space there it leaves life very difficult."

If he was to identify a difference between their massed defence in 2013 and 2014, it was the presence of Michael Murphy as an auxiliary sweeper in defence and the forwards tracking back.

Brendan Devenney recalls playing a county semi-final that St Eunan's lost to Gweedore, when he was directly against Neil McGee. He was a sticky marker even then, but now he has the physicality behind it.

Devenney feels the system Donegal play offers the brothers some protection, and is not putting it beyond Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice to try and manipulate the Donegal shape.

"If this was an orthodox, old-style game like 10 years ago, it would be some battle between the Kerry forwards and the Donegal backs," assessed Devenney.

"Certainly, Neil would be exposed the odd time because James O'Donoghue's movement is phenomenal. That's one thing about him and he is right on the money when it comes to one-on-ones.

"But when you are in the middle of that blanket defence ... the channels and the kind of looped ball that you might get onto, you just don't get it. If O'Donoghue stays inside, I expect McGee to get the better of him for sure."

Fitzmaurice's first masterstroke last year was to free up Colm Cooper from the inside line, where he had become cranky under the pressure of stacked defences.

"There is going to be a lot of tactical stuff going on, as in the last day. But will Fitzmaurice free up O'Donoghue?" asks Devenney.

"What I think will happen is he might go out the field, but if Jim McGuinness tells Neil to follow him, and he snuffs him out, then that is Kerry's chances of winning snuffed out.

"I think that could be the case and when McGee is further out the field he can carry ball, so it is a double threat."

In that instance, the first thing to do is to halt the man at source, cut out the counter-attack and regain the shape at the back, where Kerry won't be as naive as Dublin.

A lot of thinking to be done by both sides.

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