Caolan McGonagle taking his long-awaited chance with Donegal
DONEGAL'S towering midfielder Caolan McGonagle knows all about the waiting game and frustration.
For the Buncrana star was first called up into the Donegal senior squad just ahead of the 2016 season, he didn't make his senior Championship debut until last year - against Tyrone.
He already has a senior Ulster Championship medal from 2018 and a NFL Division Two medal from 2019 but the intervening period has been one of some frustration.
But the versatile McGonagle is now a regular starter on the side since that Championship encounter against Tyrone and a vital cog in the Donegal machine.
However, he is very aware of the “savage” competition for places on this team of tall men as he prepares to face Dublin in Breffni Park on Saturday.
“I know there will be no League final, but this is one match where you are going to test yourself against the best players in Ireland.
“For myself I am probably looking to be going up against Brian Fenton or James McCarthy and just look at what they have won over the past few years.
“It is a chance to test yourself against the best and that’s ultimately the aim when you are playing the game at this level”.
And, even though this is a League match of very little consequence, McGonagle says that Donegal are in championship mode as he reflects on the battle he has had to keep his slot.
“When you have your jersey, you want to keep it.
“You have boys like Jason McGee, Odhrán MacNiallais and Michael who can all play in this position.
“So if I get that jersey on Saturday night it’s my job to hold on to it for the championship,” said the secondary school teacher.
With Michael Murphy out injured and Jamie Brennan, Oisin Gallen and Jeaic MacCeallbhui all out injured there has been some understandable caution ahead of this dead rubber.
But McGonagle is adamant that you can’t go out and perform if you are concerned about picking up a knock.
“You can’t go into a game scared of picking up a knock.
“You have a bit of momentum and game sharpness built up now and you want to keep that going at the weekend.
“You just can’t go in thinking about getting a knock”.
Under Declan Bonner Donegal are much less defensive which has increased the “intensity” according to McGonagle.
“ There has been a change and it is just the sheer intensity of it all.
“You are attacking at pace and then you are defending so the intensity has probably gone up when you are maintaining that for a full game.
“ That is probably one of the biggest changes”.
But for McGonagle it has been quite a battle to get to play in such intensity.
“Getting a regular start has been good for my confidence.
“I have had to bide my time in the squad and waited to get that chance.
“It can be quite frustrating trying to get a regular place.
“In Buncrana there is not much chance to play senior championship club football.”
He added: “But it can be frustrating. You are coming to training and the aim is to get the jersey but I suppose if you want it bad enough it probably makes you work that bit harder.
“If you know yourself that you can do it then you will say I can prove that I can do it. You don’t rest on your laurels and wait for someone else to take the jersey from you.
“And now that I have it, it is something that you have to try and build on every day.”.
But getting that big break against Tyrone in last year’s Ulster Championship was a great boost to McGonagle’s confidence.
“Any day you pull on the jersey is a good day, but everyone’s aim is to play for Donegal in the Championship.
“So getting my first start was a big deal.
“You just hope to take that opportunity so that you can experience it more and more.”