Donegal’s Ódhran MacNiallais happy to mix with big guns

Gweedore man prefers to play further up the field as he proved against Mayo

Donegal’s Ódhran MacNiallais normally plays midfield but likes to play in the forwards. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

Donegal’s Ódhran MacNiallais normally plays midfield but likes to play in the forwards. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.

 

When Donegal re-emerged for the second half of their game against Mayo on Sunday, Ódhran MacNiallais trotted straight to the edge of the square where he spent the remainder of the afternoon.

It was a novel position on what was a novel Allianz Football League day in Ballybofey: bright sunshine, a crowded house and an atmosphere that was at summer pitch. Mayo fans had travelled to the northwest in force and recent history as well as present circumstances meant that both counties were up for this.

‘Massive physicality’

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Although he often wears the traditional midfield number, there has been a play-anywhere felicity to MacNiallais’s game which quickly distinguished him as a AAA prospect for Donegal in his debut season of 2014. The 1-4 he posted against Cork underlined his potential as a scorer. Against Mayo, his 0-2 came from outfield but, given the option, he is happier operating in a more advanced position.

“I prefer half forward, further up the pitch myself. I played midfield a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it, and you do get a wee bit more freedom if you’re in midfield, you’re not getting marked as much. But I’d rather be closer to the goal, and we have plenty of options in midfield. Christy Toye can play in there, big Neil (Gallagher), and Hughie McFadden, who is playing great stuff for us this year.”

The return of Rory Kavanagh to the squad also deepens the midfield options for Rory Gallagher. The Letterkenny man seemed to have lost little through his year in retirement and while the Donegal collective was cleaned out at midfield in the first half, Kavanagh looked like himself: busy, attack-minded and always involved. His presence gives Gallagher a chance to move MacNiallais.

“Yeah he had a great game and I think he got a point too in the first half. He kind of controlled things at times, and he’s an unbelievable player to have back. Even at training or in the dressing room, he’s a big voice. He’s a great physical player and carries the ball well. When he’s on the ball, he’s calm and he always does the right thing.”

The emergence of a new generation of players has meant that there is a lengthy queue game-time featuring luminaries like Karl Lacy, Colm McFadden and Christy Toye, who marked his return to the first team by initiating Donegal’s only goal, finished by Leo McLoone.

That score proved enough to subdue Mayo in what was an absorbing, high-energy game.

“It was a good move,” says MacNiallais.“I don’t really remember it now – I just remember Leo finishing it off. They battled hard there, but we knew if we stuck to our game plan throughout the game, that we would keep to them to as minimum amount of scores as possible.”

It leaves Donegal with a perfect record as they prepare for their visit to Kerry next weekend: having dropped points to Roscommon, the Kingdom will be keen to impose their authority.

First-team player

“You grow in confidence when you’re playing games. I just see it as building blocks, this last couple of years. For the likes of these young players, Micheál Carroll, Stephen McBrearty and Ciarán Thompson; they’re only going to improve like that.

“They mightn’t make a push and become great players this year, but in the next couple of years they’ll be big players for Donegal.”

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