BY CHRIS MCNULTY
1. Three into two just might go
MARTIN McElhinney gave a performance of real enlightenment on Sunday.
His was as close to a Man of the Match performance as you’ll get without actually having the cigar to show. It was a performance that Donegal fans had craved from the big Queen’s University student.
He’s a player who has always had the promise – in the depths of the winter of 2006, Brian McIver didn’t call an 18-year old to trial with his team for the sake of it – and now he has the cut of a man determined to shine.
McElhinney made his debut on the same sodden afternoon in January 2007 as Michael Murphy and later that year made his Championship bow in a qualifier win against Leitrim.
He has had his troubles with injury and has suffered, too, because of the quality of the midfielders ahead of him in the line. There has been general worry in Donegal about what happens should Neil Gallagher or Rory Kavanagh call time on their inter-county careers – but McElhinney demonstrated on Sunday that there might be no need to panic after all.
In Galway, he won his share of ball, rolled the sleeves up and got stuck in when he was needed. McElhinney grafted hard, forced a few turnovers with that powerful frame of his and, generally, was deep in the trenches when the going got tough.
Donegal’s half-forward line is perhaps an area in need of a fine tune. With either McElhinney or Kavanagh a possibility here, might it be a good time to suggest that there could yet be room for McElhinney, Kavanagh and Gallagher in the same XV.
The St Michael’s man is still only 25. Making the no.9 his own is to be his mission this year.
2. McBrearty’s points are proving
SPRANG from the bench again on Sunday, Patrick McBrearty reminded us again that he is a player plucked from the top shelf. Three magnificent points represented a good return from the Kilcar man.
This is, remarkable, his fourth year on the panel and he doesn’t turn 21 until August.
McBrearty’s third point on Sunday was one of the points of the game: a quick step onto the left boot, he smashed over the black spot from 40 metres. It was an arrow to the bulls-eye.
McBrearty has the archer’s eye from these positions and the burning pace can leave all bar the odd exceptions rubbing the dust from their faces. Would a role at number 11 see him really flourish?
Injured until recently, McBrearty has started the opening two League games on the bench and it could be that Jim McGuinness has delved into his psychology books here.
2014 is a big year for McBrearty, but the signs are good so far as he makes the right noises as a sub to justify elevation. Will be in the team before too long and should kick when the time comes this year.
3. Room for more?
JIM McGuinness has used a grand total of twenty-three players so far in the National Football League.
That figure doesn’t include Eamon McGee, who was suspended for the opening two games and injury has denied Paddy McGrath and David Walsh any game time so far.
Of those in reserve on Sunday, McBrearty and Gallagher are almost certain to force their way back into the first-choice plans by next month but it is in the backline where Jim McGuinness could be left with the biggest conundrum.
McGee returns from suspension for the Monaghan game and, while McGrath is still some way off being fully fit the Ardara man has been a mainstay in the side when available. While Ryan McHugh and Leo McLoone are comfortable around the half-forward line, moves which could accommodate the returning McGrath and McGee, there remains the burning question about who just would stand aside.
The answer isn’t too forthcoming either, which can only be a good thing, especially when you consider that the likes of Declan Walsh and Martin O’Reilly continue to push hard when given the chance.
Working out his best XV could yet prove a tricky task for McGuinness who seems – on the basis of evidence presented thus far – as if he has the materials for forming his strongest 26-man matchday squad yet, fitness provided of course.
4. Mulholland and Galway teetering on the brink
GALWAY are in a position of some uncertainty right now and Alan Mulholland faces a huge job to lift the spirits and confidence in the coming weeks.
With two losses from their opening two games, the margins for error are receding fast for the Tribesmen.
Galway’s footballing stock shouldn’t appear to have fallen so rapidly, but then again the warning signs were posted when Mayo annihilated them in the Connacht Championship last year.
That they managed to make the last twelve, losing narrowly to Cork in a round four qualifier, brought some salvation, but there are now real concerns out west as to their Division 2 futures.
Galway have won two All-Ireland Under-21 titles in recent years and do have some key personnel sidelined at the moment, but you cannot help but notice the very body language of their squad. Everything their warm-up to warm-down on Sunday was not what you’d expect from a team that is in desperate need of a lift.
“It has put a bit of pressure on us,” Mulholland admitted after the loss.
Defeat in their next outing against Laois is almost unthinkable.
5. Ryan McHugh growing in stature
MARTIN Carney watched Ryan McHugh playing in a game for Sligo IT last month and was taken by the performance of the young Kilcar man. Carney remarked after the game, one Sligo had lost, about how impressed he had been by McHugh.
It wasn’t just the football ability that struck the Ballyshannon man. Rather, Carney relayed to friends of the magnificent intelligence he’d displayed in the game.
McHugh is a real chip of the block in that regard. Those who recall Martin McHugh in his pomp can talk of the football intelligence, cuteness if you will, the ‘Wee Man’ possessed.
Mark McHugh’s is a specialised role and has made it his own, but now the younger sibling is banging the door in to be included.
He has an undeniable thirst for the game as could be seen from his after-match interview on Sunday.
After trading positions with Frank McGlynn on Sunday to come further out the field, McHugh gave a real outline of what he has to offer.
Constantly probed a way through Galway’s rearguard and set up several Donegal scores as well as hitting a tidy point himself in the second half.
That apart his use and retention of possession stood out. He’ll be hard to dislodge.