Winning Ulster gives you more confidence for Croke Park clashes says Donegal defender Neil McGee
DONEGAL full-back Neil McGee hopes to hit the road for Croke Park later this year with a fourth Ulster medal in his pocket.
The experienced 31-year-old Ghaoth Dobhair clubman - a formidable man-marker who has kept tabs on top forwards like Bernard Brogan, Conor McManus, Stephen O'Neill and Paddy Bradley throughout a career that has earned him three Allstar awards- says winning Ulster has given him “more confidence going down to Dublin”.
He already has three Anglo-Celt titles to go along with the All-Ireland medal he won back in 2012 when Donegal saw off Mayo to capture the Sam Maguire for a second time.
That year, Jim McGuinness's men had beaten Down to retain their provincial crown and it was the same story two years later when the Tir Chonaill outfit got the better of Monaghan to take the Anglo-Celt Cup and went on to surprise favourites Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final and meet Kerry in the final.
The Kingdom came out on top that day but McGee says that winning in Ulster has always given him an extra layer of self-belief for moving onto the national stage.
“It gives you more confidence going down to Dublin as Ulster champions than coming through the back door,” said McGee, who will line-out for his club against last year's beaten finalists Kilcar in the Donegal senior championship on Sunday.
“That's the way I have found it anyway, so that's our number one target.”
Of course, McGee is well aware that to get to the Ulster final, Donegal will have to get over Antrim and then the winners of Derry versus defending champions Tyrone.
If they get through that, then the best side of Monaghan, Fermanagh, Armagh, Down or Cavan will await them in the decider.
“The short-term goal is to beat Antrim and then the longer-term target is an Ulster title,” said McGee.
“All the Ulster teams would have the same ambitions.
“We'd like to get into Croke Park as Ulster champions but, if not, we still want to get to the quarter-finals anyway.”
Meanwhile, McGee's older brother Eamonn, who retired from inter-county football at the end of last season, has admitted that it took him time to embrace Jim McGuinness's revolutionary approach to playing for Donegal.
Eamonn McGee played with McGuinness for a season for the Tir Chonaill side when he started out on his inter-county career and he conceded in a recent interview on the Real Talks podcast that he had early reservations when the Glenties native was appointed Donegal manager in 2010.
“When Jim McGuinness came in initially, he's on about winning All-Irelands,” said McGee.
“I was very sceptical of him. He dropped me from the panel for the first few months because from my initial meeting with him, I says: ‘Jesus, I'm away for a few pints here.' He got word of it, he said: ‘Jesus I don't like this, this is the old Donegal, this isn't the Donegal I want to be part of'.
“He dropped me. Thankfully he asked me back but the Donegal team, pre-Jim, and the Donegal team I ended up with, they're two totally different animals.
“It's hard to explain until you experience it but it's night and day, polar opposites of each other.”