Midfield powerhouse Martin McElhinney hails 'strongest' Donegal squad

Donegal's Martin McElhinney hit four points from play against Down on Sunday and is hoping to be first choice at midfield in 2019 Picture: Cliff Donaldson.

MARTIN McElhinney says the current Donegal squad is the strongest he’s been involved in and hopes to nail down one of the midfield berths in 2019.

The experienced St Michael’s ace didn’t do his cause any harm after bagging four points from play and winning the man-of-the-match award in Donegal’s 10-point McKenna Cup win over Down last weekend.

A series of injuries forced him to the periphery of Declan Bonner’s squad last year as Michael Langan, Leo McLooney and Hugh McFadden occupied the midfield berths in Donegal’s run to the Super 8s.

He only played 17 minutes of Championship football last summer – a second-half substitute in Donegal’s Super 8s defeat to Tyrone in Ballybofey – but now that he’s injury-free the 30-year-old is determined to make his mark in 2019.

“There's loads of competition this year in fairness,” he said.

“It's a very strong squad - probably as strong a squad as I have been involved in. There are still boys to come back in this week and next week. There are loads of opportunities there for fellas so it's just a matter of putting your hands up and taking it when you get a chance.

“There's no point in having a good squad though unless you're going to take it into the League. In years gone by, I might've ducked out of the McKenna Cup but it's good to get back in there and to get 60 to 70 minutes under my belt.”

Michael Murphy, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and Ryan McHugh are just some of the big hitters that will rejoin Bonner’s panel.

“We've the main players to come back in and that will be a real bonus… When you have that you have competition as with [playing] the same 15 players things can go stale.”

With Michael Langan playing as a target man and Jason McGee entering the fray in the second half against Down, McElhinney knows only too well the depth of midfield resources available to Donegal this year.

But there is nothing quite like injury and celebrating your 30th birthday to add focus to a player’s career.

“I only trained maybe three or four weeks last year,” McElhinney explained.

“I got back in early this year and did a good pre-season so I’m just happy to get back in. I played three games in the whole of last year and they were all against Tyrone!

“I can get a couple of miles in the legs this year. I did a wee bit over the winter and was back in with Donegal then.

“It's my first start as I only came back late and came on last week against Queen's. It's good to get back on the road.”

A major bonus for McElhinney is that he no longer has to make the Dublin to Donegal commute as he’s been working in Buncrana for the last 18 months.

“I was in Dublin for eight years,” he said. “You've the home comforts and you don't have a big trek after training - having to get out of the car after three hours.

“It makes a big difference. When you have to drive from Dublin - maybe stuck in traffic for an hour or so first - and then landing in Convoy or wherever trying to do a hard training session; it takes you about an hour to even loosen out.”

Unbeaten after two games, Donegal are odds-on to secure a McKenna Cup semi-final berth as they face Cavan in their final Section A game in Ballybofey tomorrow night.

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