Red card shame that nearly pushed Eamon McGee through the exit door — September 2013

THERE were 19 points between the teams when it happened.

The All-Ireland quarter-final had entered the 52nd minute and Mayo led Donegal by 4–12 to 0–5.

Eamon McGee was in a bad place.

Last September, he’d marked Cillian O’Connor in the All-Ireland final and came close to getting the man-of-the-match award.

This time around, O’Connor — who ended up with three goals — was taking him to the cleaners.

McGee was ready to blow a gasket. A Mayo attack broke down and he intercepted to give a fist pass.

As he moved out the field, Mayo forward Enda Varley tried to block his path.

The two players collided and Varley fell on to his front.

McGee kept going, bringing his left foot down on Varley’s upper back.

It was one of the easiest decisions referee Joe McQuillan had to make. Straight red card.

Over the next few days, McGee thought long and hard about whether that would be his last act in inter-county football.

“Everything came to a head. The results, the score, my own performances…I got cleaned in the Ulster final and I was getting cleaned again on a big day,’’ he said

“A load of those things built up in my head. I was so frustrated and that’s what happened.

“I gave quitting serious thought, but it was pure self-pity.

“I was feeling sorry for myself. And it has to be the most useless emotion of all.

“It serves no purpose at all and you get very little out of it.

“I wasn’t thinking about where we went wrong, how we could improve or stuff like that.

“It was all ‘poor me, poor me, I got sent off, we got hammered, I played shite in a few games’.

“But, after a few days, that cleared up.

“You get a bit of cop-on. I knew there were telephone calls I had to make.

“I rang Enda Varley up and apologised. He was brilliant about it, fair play to him.”

Sometimes players just know when a game is beyond them, and McGee felt it early on that day.

“Everybody was saying at half-time — ‘we can still do this’. But at the back of your head, you’re thinking ‘we’re buggered here’,’’ he said.

“When Donal Vaughan’s goal went in, that was when myself, personally, started asking questions.

“You definitely know when you’re in one of those games. You just want to get it over and done with.”

Tomorrow, McGee will play for Gaoth Dobhair against Ardara in the Donegal club championship.

But he won’t be tuning in to see Dublin and Mayo do battle for Sam Maguire in eight days’ time.

“I won’t watch it at all. It’s not that I’d find it hard to watch…

“I just don’t want to be bothered with anything to do with GAA for the next few months.

“I don’t want to watch anything to do with county football.

“It’s from the mental side of it that we need the bigger break.

“You just want to switch off from the whole thing. Forget about Donegal, forget about county football, in general. Just be ready to go at it 100 per cent when we do go at it.”

Donegal were garlanded with praise for the manner in which they claimed the All-Ireland last year, but there’s been a fair bit of revisionism since, due to their defeats to

Monaghan in the Ulster final and Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

It seems as if many have enjoyed their fall.

“My Twitter feed gave that impression anyway, that a lot of people were glad to see the back of us,’’ said McGee.

“That’s just the way it is. We carried ourselves well.

“But, if you’re the team at the top, it’s just human nature…

“Like I hate Manchester United because they’re the top team.

“That’s more or less why I support Aston Villa.

“When you’re at the top, people want you to fail.”

McGee has plenty on his plate outside of football to deal with.

“I’m working in United Healthcare in Letterkenny now, the same place as Christy Toye,’’ he said.

“And I’m going back to college to do an Irish degree. Doing it part-time in Magee College in Derry.

“It would be good to get Christy back.

“He’s only 30, just a year older than me. He still has something to offer.

“We need to strengthen the squad.

“There was talk that it was strong but it got exposed a bit in the summer.”

McGee would like Mayo to win the All-Ireland, but feels Dublin will nick it.

And he still finds it hard to believe how quickly his summer went sour.

“It was the first year in a long time that I got a good League campaign behind me,’’ he said..

“I was steady enough. Started off in Ulster and did well against Tyrone.

“Coming into the Ulster final, I was carrying a few niggles and probably wasn’t being fair to myself.

“For me to be going well, I need to be going flat out in training.

“The Ulster final showed that I wasn’t right and I was just buggered after that.

“It was so frustrating because I’d done everything right up to those few weeks.

“I’d prepared well, but it all went belly up.

“I enjoyed a lot of this year as I had never trained this well.

“So it’s funny the way it ended up with two of the worst games I ever played — the Ulster final and that day in Croke Park.

“That’s football. You can’t go around feeling sorry for yourself.”

SIDEBAR

THE same old cliche of defending champions lacking appetite was thrown out by pundits to explain Donegal’s demise.

“It’s an easy thing to say,’’ said Eamon McGee.

“Instead of people going in and doing a bit of research…

“You have people going ‘ah, no hunger, no hunger, no hunger’.

“You have to realise that a lot of our team were carrying niggles.

“If you go through the 15, the majority of them were carrying niggles.

“To say that it was down to hunger is a pure cop-out. You have to dig deeper than that.

“Karl Lacey was instrumental to us, and we didn’t have him.

“He was out for a lot of it. A few other lads were carrying knocks and really didn’t get up to the level of training that they needed.

“I wouldn’t buy into the notion that Donegal didn’t have the hunger.

“The great teams always deliver more than one, come back to win it again.

“We don’t want to go out on that note.

“I know a few of the lads are coming near the end of their careers so we want to give it everything next year.

“If that’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough.”

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