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McGee still has big role for Donegal

By John Campbell

Eamonn McGee could have been forgiven had he begun to think of himself as a bit player in terms of Donegal’s bid to win what would be the second All Ireland title in their history.

Not always an automatic starter for various reasons, McGee nonetheless will play for his county for the 99th time on Sunday if selected to face Cork in the All Ireland semi-final.

And he would surely be joining Karl Lacey in entering the ton-up club had he not missed the Ulster final — the second year in succession in which he played no part in the provincial showpiece.

But McGee is nothing if not resilient and his value to the Ulster champions was clearly underlined when he was detailed to police Kieran Donaghy in the All Ireland quarter-final against Kerry.

Donaghy may have poached a late goal but overall McGee kept the big Kingdom target man in check to such an extent that he made only fleeting contributions to the game.

Now the Gaoth Dobhair clubman is poised for an equally big challenge, in every sense of the word, against Cork.

It is possible that Leesiders’ boss Conor Counihan will deploy the physically imposing Nicholas Murphy, all six feet five inches of him, on the edge of the square and should he do so then McGee would be the likely candidate to try and curtail him.

He is unfazed, though, by what most players would see as a particularly daunting task.

“I don’t mind who I am asked to mark as long as I am in the side. It would be nice surely to be going into an All Ireland final playing for your county for the 100th time but all my focus is on Cork right now,” states the quiet-spoken McGee.

His man-marking skills, acute vision and strength on the ball when going forward have helped to make him a significant cog in Donegal’s defensive mechanism.

He has played in several positions for his county, including at full-back, the position currently occupied by his brother Neil.

“There is very stiff competition for places in the side and it’s always encouraging to get the nod. We have good players on the bench and everyone understands that Jim McGuinness is trying to get the best formation possible,” points out McGee.

Like his colleagues, McGee is aware of the rich options Cork have up front where players such as Paul Kerrigan, Donnacha O’Connor and Colm O’Neill have been in red-hot form lately.

The return of O’Neill and Ciaran Sheehan in particular to full fitness has helped to add considerable bite to the Cork inside line and McGee recognises that the Donegal defence is facing its biggest test of the year.

“Cork have shown all along the line that they are a serious team. They have a sharp appetite for success and they also have great strength on their bench with players that are able to come in and do a good job at the drop of a hat,” adds McGee.

“This is one match where we cannot afford the slightest lapse in concentration because we know that Cork are capable of punishing us.”

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