IT might be a reasonable to assume that if any of Donegal panel were told now in early January their exploits for this coming year would match those of last then everyone might be reasonably content – except for Leo McLoone.
The 22-year-old had to line out against some familiar faces at O’Donnell Park on Sunday in a 0-11 to 0-9 win for his UUJ side but the Naomh Conaill player is looking forward to making up for lost time with Donegal when the National Football League and Ulster championship swing into gear in the coming months.
Last year in early spring, McLoone arguably as Donegal’s form player, with the early season highlight being an excellent showing in the National Football League Division Two win over Tyrone in Omagh. However, a broken ankle suffered in a Gaeltacht championship club game meant three months on the sidelines.
And although McLoone returned to score from the bench against Cavan in the Ulster championship in June, his season was dealt a second blow when he fractured an eye socket in the much talked about aftermatch brawl in Glenties between Naomh Conaill and Glenswilly.
This year, though, McLoone is looking forward. If Sunday’s Dr McKenna Cup fare is anything to go by, the college in which he is undertaking a Masters in Sports Psychology will have a fighting chance come the Sigerson Cup. Then, of course, there’s a chance to showcase his abilities in the county jersey.
“I’m definitely looking forward to getting back in with Donegal,” he said on Sunday. “I missed all of last year, since this time last year really, so yeah I’m looking forward to getting back. I wasn’t up to fitness later in the year. It was hard missing out on all the success but hopefully I can get in this year and we can have some success again. I’m hoping to build now and push on towards February.”
“It’s in these few weeks and months that you build the fitness. There is a lot of training on and it’s hard to juggle. You don’t want to offend anyone by not attending their training, but it is definitely tough.”
Playing from centre-back on the UUJ team, McLoone, and indeed his teammates in the light blue, which included Eoin Waide, were fitter as Sunday’s game wound to a conclusion and CJ McGoarty’s four points sealed the win for the visitors. For McLoone, it was a strange feeling playing against so many of his friends.
“I was going easy on ‘Brick’ (Dermot Molloy). It was strange to play against them. That was the first time I’ve played against ‘Brick’, Anthony [Thompson] and Marty [Boyle]. It is very different, but I don’t think it’ll happen too often again.
“Donegal are still experimenting a lot with new players in different games. It’s hard for them too with boys away at college. There are the lads at DCU, Mark McHugh is up in Sligo and myself and Eoin are in UUJ. I don’t think it’ll worry Jim too much though – it’s only early in the year yet.”
McGuckian praises Donegal lads
University of Jordanstown manager, Adrian McGuckian, who knows the Donegal scene well from his time on the sideline with Brian McIver, had a broad smile on his face at the end of the game, after watching his young side put one over on Donegal.
He was full of praise for his side, but made special mention of the two Donegal students wearing the UUJ colours, Leo McLoone and Eoin Waide.
“We have to say the two Donegal lads did very well for us. Big Leo caught everything and blocked everything and he came out with it. He’s a great character and a leader through and through.
“We’re happy enough with that,” said UUJ manager, Adrian McGuckian. “We’ve come with a pretty understrength team but the boys showed tremendous heart.”CJ (McGourty) worked the couple of scores in a tight game and he did well, especially as he has an exam in the morning at 9 o’clock,” said Adrian.
Sheridan crossing borders
Another man to star in the UUJ victory over Donegal on Sunday in Letterkanny was Melvin Gaels man Conor Sheridan.
Son of Dessie Sheridan, who is Chairman of the Kinlough club, who won last year’s Leitrim Intermediate championship the number 12 had a number of missed chances early in the first half, but his work rate in the 2nd half produced a free which was converted and he was on hand on a couple of other occasions, in movement that ended with UUJ scoring.
Speaking afterwards to the Donegal Democrat/DPP he said:
“This is my first time to compete in the McKenna Cup although I have played in the FBD for Leitrim. It was great to win today against the Ulster champions and last year’s All Ireland semi finalists. It was a tough and close game right up to the very end and either team could have won it in the final minutes They were missing a few today, but so were we.”
He added: “Hopefully we can go on now and get a good run in the McKenna Cup, before moving onto Sigerson. We have Liemrick in the first round.”
Conor is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Infrastrucural engineering at UUJ and before that he was a student at IT Sligo, where he was a member of their Sigerson Cup panel. He was also a student at Colaiste Cholmcille in Ballyshannon.