Former Donegal footballer Eamon McGee faced many challenges during his intercounty career - but, by the sounds of things, none of them quite compared to his experience as part of RTÉ's Ultimate Hell Week.
McGee was part of the group of celebrities who undertook the gruelling week of challenges for the new season of the RTÉ show, and he spoke to us on Wednesday to give an insight into the experience.
Eamon McGee describes "surreal" Hell Week
Ultimate Hell Week takes a group of civilians and places them in a series of gruelling exercises and challenges used as a test for those entering military service. RTÉ marketed the first season, in 2019, with the information that 90% of military candidates who take the test fail.
This year's series sees a group of celebrities - referred to as Professionals - take on the Hell Week challenges, and Donegal All-Ireland winner Eamon McGee is one of them.
McGee says he initially turned down the opportunity to appear on the RTÉ show before being convinced by his wife Joanne and former Donegal teammate Michael Murphy. When he did arrive in Cork for "Hell Week", he says he was just a touch underprepared...
I look back on it…in terms of preparation, I threw a rake of rocks in a bag and went away for a 10-15 mile job around the hills in Gaoth Dobhair. It was in no way anywhere near preparation! I was way up in the middle of nowhere and I thought, ‘Jesus, I’m in good shape here, I’ll manage it no bother!’
In terms of actually asking the mental questions, I had no preparation for it, and I don’t think there’s anything I could have done. For the total assault of the senses, from the go. To go back to football, the minute the ball was thrown in, it was just a hundred mile an hour. I can’t actually – even if I was allowed to tell you what was going on, I don’t think I would do it justice.
It was just so surreal in there.
In all fairness, the challenges McGee and his comrades faced looked gruelling to say the least, if the trailer for the series is anything to go by.
— RTÉ One (@RTEOne) August 18, 2021
McGee faced off against fellow Irish sports stars like Peter Stringer, Andrew Trimble, and Stephanie Roche - but when we asked him if there was any element of inter-sport rivalry, he said the contestant he wanted to beat the most was Kerry's Darran O'Sullivan.
In the initial buildup it was, ‘I’m gonna show these rugby boys! I’m gonna show these soccer heads what the craic is!’ When you’re flung into it, though, that sort of thing goes out the window – you’re trying to survive with them rather than outlast them.
I had to laugh, I was saying to O’Sullivan – Darran was involved – I was saying, ‘I have to last longer than you. I have to last longer than you!’ This was beforehand, and it all went out the window as soon as the course started and as soon as the week started
McGee played on the great Donegal football team of 2012 that won the county's first All-Ireland title in 20 years. Then manager Jim McGuinness was famed for his comprehensive training, but McGee says that not even his old coach's tactics could prepare him for the week from hell.
I thought it would! But no, it didn’t. As I say, I’d be able to grind it out physically with the best of them. You know, just get the head down and grind it and grind it and grind it from a physical perspective, but it’s all from a mental perspective and that’s what it’s all about. You can…you’re pushing your body in your time in the gym.
At the time when we were at the top of our game with the county, we were pushing our body to the limits in the way we played and the way we trained, and that’s grand, but some other situations we find ourselves in where you’re asking yourself mental questions – that’s completely different. For me, anyway, that’s a totally different ballgame. I was in no way prepared.
Each of the participants was given the opportunity to represent a charity of their choice, and McGee left his wife to choose one close to home for his.
When I signed up, I chatted to Joanne because obviously I was gonna be away for a few days and she was gonna have the kids, so I said, ‘first of all, are you happy enough with me going away?’ And she said, ‘yeah, definitely, it’s a massive experience.’ So I said, ‘right, grand, you pick the charity then.’ Something she would have followed closely during the lockdown and even before it was the Donegal Domestic Violence Services. I think that she’s read a few stories and this kind of resonated with her.
She said, ‘can we help out with this?’ and the answer was 100%. I was more than happy, because I’ve chatted to the charity themselves and they’ve given me a run through it and how it was founded and what services they offer and it’s an amazing thing.
We don’t hear the half of what goes on – and that’s even pre-lockdown, and you can imagine what it was like during lockdown for a woman that’s been in that situation. So, to have a service like that here is so vital.
The Donegal Domestic Violence Services do indeed provide an invaluable service, and it's great to see such an important charity represented by one of the county's biggest sporting stars.
The new season of Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week is coming soon to RTÉ, and we can't wait to see how Eamon McGee gets on - especially against the rugby men from Munster, and in particular Kerry's Darran O'Sullivan. We can't see ourselves signing up any time soon, though...