Leo McLoone may not quite be perceived as one of Donegal’s leading lights.
Indeed, the Naomh Conaill clubman is recognised for possessing rather more earthy virtues than the elegant skills with which some of his colleagues are imbued.
But manager Jim McGuinness certainly requires no endorsements from any sector to convince him that the combative McLoone fulfils a vital role within his team.
Seven years ago, as a raw 15-year-old, McLoone was plunged into the furnace of a county final against St Eunan’s by McGuinness, who was then cutting his teeth in club management with Naomh Conaill. It was the ultimate vote of confidence.
Even then, although wet behind the ears in many respects, McLoone’s combative skills and strength on the ball persuaded McGuinness that he could morph into an accomplished county.
And this is precisely what has happened. It was in the Under-21 sector that he further gave an insight into his credentials when he was a member of the Donegal side that lost to Dublin in the All Ireland decider at this level in 2010, current senior skipper Michael Murphy missing a vital penalty.
This year, the Naomh Conaill man has played an important part in helping to steer his county to back to back Ulster titles for the first time and overcoming Kerry in the All Ireland quarter-final.
In that game, McLoone, to quote McGuinness, “worked his socks off” before being substituted by veteran Christy Toye in the 61st minute.
It was McLoone’s ability to break tackles, to track back when Kerry counter-attacked and to again show his scoring touch by landing a 38th minute point that underlined his value to the side.
Not surprisingly, McGuinness hails the contribution to Donegal’s progress this year by his former protégée and believes that his physical attributes can be effectively deployed against Cork.
“Leo has been unfortunate with injuries in the past but his consistency this year is admirable. He is versatile, which is a big help especially in the modern game, and he is very strong on the ball. We are always trying to minimise turnovers and, in this respect, Leo plays a big part,” observes McGuinness.
McLoone initially lined out at right-half-back in the Ulster Championship against Cavan before donning the No 11 shirt against Tyrone and Down.
But numbers on jerseys are utterly meaningless in the context of McGuinness’s complex strategic blueprint — something that is clearly recognised by McLoone, who says: “I will play in whatever role I am given. It does not matter what number you have on your back, you are given a specific task and you just try to carry that out to the best of your ability on any given day.”