With McLoone on board McGuinness has all angles covered
There are versatile footballers – and then there is Leo McLoone.
The Donegal ace started against Cavan in the Ulster Championship at wing-back, was switched to corner forward against Derry, found himself dropped for the semi-final against Tyrone and was then recalled at centrethreequarters for the decider against Down.
Not only did McLoone start in a variety of positions but he actually fulfiled further roles during the course of some games, particularly those against Cavan and Down.
Indeed, his contribution to Donegal’s progress this year has surprised some people. Last year he was out of action for a protracted spell because of a serious ankle injury and then he sustained a broken jaw in a melee that followed a club game.
Yet the sturdy Namomh Conaill clubman is far from a stop-gap player as is evidenced by the fact that manager Jim McGuinness despatched him to Castlebar a few days ago as Donegal’s envoy to the formal All-Ireland Championship launch.
McLoone’s actual role in the side to face Kerry on Sunday is still uncertain given that McGuinness is continuing to study the fitness of midfielder Neil Gallagher while also assessing the credentials of Martin McElhinney.
It was McElhinney who turned the tide in Donegal’s favour against Down when he went in as a second-half substitute to impose himself forcibly at midfield, winning invaluable possession that was translated into scores.
McLoone, McElhinney, Gallagher and Ryan Bradley share one vital quality that will be essential against the streetwise Kingdom — they have the physical power to break tackles.
McGuinness is acutely aware of this and admits that getting over the gain line at speed in launching counter-attacks will be a pre-requisite for success since Jack O’Connor’s side are masters at stifling opponents.
“When Martin McElhinney came in at half-time against Down, he gave us more presence at midfield and this will be a key area on Sunday. We will need to win what first-phase possession we can against Kerry if we are to have any chance of getting on top,” said McGuinness.
Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher currently form a solid, hard-working Kerry midfield. Their partnership is devoid of frills and instead their primary aim is to win clean possession and lay off short passes.
Sheehan is also one of the best free-takers in the country and is more than capable of exacting maximum retribution for any Donegal transgressions.
McGuinness is ramming home the message to his players than discipline will be paramount.
“We must keep our composure and stick to our game plan. Kerry will tackle us all day long and we must deal with this,” he said.