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Donegal in Ulster final is extra special for Ronan McNamee

Footage from Monday's Ulster final launch in Strabane  
Kevin Kelly in Strabane

NOBODY knows more about the intense rivalry between Tyrone and Donegal than Ronan McNamee. The Aghyaran defender lives just a stone’s throw from Donegal and admits to being a fan of Tir Chonaill in his younger days.

“That adds extra spice to it especially where I’m from,” said McNamee.

“My mother is from outside Glenties and I have plenty of relations down there who are wishing me luck that I will play well without necessarily getting the result that I’m looking for. I remember my mother telling me to slag the boys in Aghyaran, to ask how many All-Irelands have you [Tyrone] as at that time Donegal had one and Tyrone had none. It’s extra special for me as I’ve plenty of friends down there.”

The Tyrone full-back is relishing the build-up to Sunday’s final as he bids to get his hands on a first Ulster medal having lost in two U21 provincial deciders: “It’s something that I’m not used to, the hype around Tyrone and Aghyaran itself, but that is something that you wanted to be involved in when you were growing up and started to play football,” he said.

“I remember being on the hill at Clones in 2012 when Tyrone played Donegal and big [Paul] Durcan got his foot to a shot from [Martin] Penrose and diverted it and Donegal went on to win Ulster. At the start of that year I was on the panel and then I broke my ankle. At that time you could have been training all over Tyrone as Garvaghey wasn’t there and it was tough to do it, so I stepped away from the squad.

“I think it was a couple of weeks after that Donegal game and we were playing Roscommon when I was called back in. I finished up making my Championship debut in Killarney that year and marked Paul Gavin which was quite a baptism of fire.”

While Donegal head into their sixth Ulster final in-a-row, it will be Tyrone’s first decider since 2010: “But that is due as much to the tough draws they have had  as much as anything else, according to McNamee. 

Footage from Monday's Ulster final launch in Strabane  

Unbelievably, he had won only one Ulster Championship game prior to this year - against Down in 2014: “We have always been pushing to get to an Ulster final at the start of every season and it hasn’t worked out for us in recent years, but that’s just football,” admits McNamee.

“You build everything up for the Championship and two years we were drawn away to Donegal in Ballybofey and nobody likes going there to play them because it’s a wee garden. They know every inch of it and their fans are the 16th man. 

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to go out and play there, but it’s a hard place to go and get a victory. We had Down in 2014 and after that we had Monaghan in Clones and that was another massive game as they hadn’t beaten Tyrone since 1988. People talk about football passing you by and that’s four years now... thankfully we have had a good run in Ulster this year.”

McNamee enjoyed a terrific battle with David Givney in the drawn semi-final, but he knows that he faces an even tougher challenge this Sunday in Donegal captain Michael Murphy: “He [Givney] is a massive man and hard to handle and we have the same challenge in front of us with Michael Murphy,” he said. 

“He is an exceptional talent and their team is laced with quality players such as Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty, who I have played alongside at UUJ. They don’t just have Murphy who has been one of the leading players in Ireland this past six years. 

“Frank McGlynn is another quality player, you would think at times that he is almost blending in with the crowd and then he pops up and puts the ball over the bar. They are not waiting on Michael Murphy all the time because if he has an off day they have others to steer the ship.”

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