turning point

Neil McGee: We did whatever we could to keep McGuinness in place, thankfully he stayed on

McGee and Michael Murphy were on their way to Dublin when they turned around the car in Monaghan to convince McGuinness to stay.

Neil McGee Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

IT’S REMARKABLE TO think how different things could have been but for the intervention of Michael Murphy and Neil McGee almost 12 months ago.

The pair were in Monaghan, on their way to International Rules training in Dublin, when word came through that Jim McGuinness was considering his position as Donegal manager.

Realising the urgency of the situation, team captain Murphy and McGee agreed to turn around the car and they head back for Donegal to rectify matters.

A 16-point humiliation by Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final the previous August had left doubts in McGuinness’s mind about his future, but two of his most trusted lieutenants were having none of it.

“Michael wanted to get things sorted out and he managed that. It was just phonecalls and we managed to call a meeting then on the Sunday morning. Everyone was at that meeting and we said, ‘Boys, what are we going to do here?’” said McGee.

“Everyone was in agreement then that whatever we had to do, whatever we had to do to keep Jim in place we have to do it and thankfully he stayed on and we have not looked back since.”

“After Mayo last year, boys would have been honest with themselves, it would be an honest group. They knew where they were at and what they had done. Some boys would have said they did not have the work done and put the hand up.

“So we knew where we stood. Everyone has bought into it this year and when everyone buys in to it, there is only one way you can go, and that is forward.”

Neil McGee and Michael Murphy Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

A year later the decision McGuinness made to stay proved an inspired one. Donegal are preparing for only their third ever All-Ireland final  - and a second one under McGuinness.

Before their first final as a group in 2012, the younger McGee recalled lying awake in the middle of the night, such was the ferocity of the training sessions they endured.

“Over the years, the body adapts to it. You still get the odd night alright. But it has never been as bad as the first year. You get used to it now.”

Sacrifice is something this team have become accustomed to. Under one of the best managers in the history of the game, Donegal went on four training camps in 2014. Preparation, according to McGuinness, is king.

One of the manager’s biggest qualms with how 2013 went down was a lack of time he had with his team on the training field, between club championship matches and a multitude injuries. There has been no such issue this time around.

Donegal spent five days in Kildare fine-tuning their preparations for the Dubs last month. Studying. Analysing. Preparing to win.

“There’s been a lot made about the five days, but we could prepare like that for every game, the Dubs are no exception. Five days was maybe a day or two extra, but we seen it as a massive task, it was a task we knew we could do, but we had to have the right work done,” McGee says.

Jim McGuinness Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“It is enjoyable. To experience that, you are more or less living with the team, getting proper recovery after the training and eating the right foods. It’s just nice. You nail it perfectly.

Although they stunned the nation by dumping out the All-Ireland champions, McGee doesn’t necessarily agree that it was a faultless performance.

“I suppose looking at it from the outside you might have thought it was a great performance, but once we sat down to analyse it now there would be parts of the game we would not be happy with.

“Conceding 17 points is a lot for this team over the years, with a couple of exceptions. The Dubs are a top-class team, no doubt about, and the scores they have been racking up all year, they will definitely be back again.”

That’s why Murphy and McGee turned the car around. Under McGuinness they have become a different animal. Always looking to get better.

Selection Box – What are the key questions before Kerry and Donegal pick their teams?

Bernard Flynn on the ‘special’ Jim McGuinness, Marc O Sé being dropped and Dublin’s naivety

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