BY CHRIS MCNULTY
ODHRÁN MacNiallais got handed his chance by Jim McGuinness twelve months ago and grasped it with both hands.
MacNiallais started each of Donegal’s 17 competitive games in 2014 and was the only player to do so.
He’s always been highly rated and it is often forgotten that he had been drafted onto McGuinness’s first McKenna Cup panel in 2011, playing in games against Tyrone and Fermanagh.
Last year was his breakthrough and, if Sunday’s performance against Queen’s is anything to go by, he’ll not be letting go of the jersey any time soon.
“It was good to get back at it,” said the Gaoth Dobhair man after his six-point haul secured the Man of the Match trophy.
“It was good to get the win after the disappointment of last Sunday. It was important to get the win. We’ve had the head down and in training for the last few weeks.”
Rory Gallagher has assumed the control panel, but for MacNiallais little has changed since he succeeded McGuinness.
He said: “Rory, Gary (McDaid) and the boys have done a very good job and training has been good.
“There isn’t much different now. It’s a different voice, that’s about it. Rory has plenty of experience, from his time working with Jim and all his time in football.”
MacNiallais had been named to play in Donegal’s first McKenna Cup game in Owenbeg, but a bout of flu’ ruled him out of the Derry clash.
In Ballybofey, he made light work of the testing weather to land some magnificent points, three of them defying the day that was in it.
He said: “The conditions were terrible, the breeze was just in your face. It suited the left foot so I was delighted to get those few scores in the first half.”
MacNiallais’s inclusion came on a day when Gallagher was able to call upon some of the other front-line men and it was no surprise their respective returns coincided with a much more encouraging display.
MacNiallais said: “The experience was the difference between today and last Sunday. Christy Toye came in today and gave us a lot going forward. Paddy McGrath and Frank McGlynn helped us to be solid at the back.
“It’s always good to have those players around you, especially for the new fellas coming into the squad. Having those boys beside you is a massive help.
“When I came into the squad, they were brilliant.”
Donegal can still qualify for the knockout stage of the competition but the calculators will be at the ready on Wednesday night when they meet in-form Fermanagh in Ballybofey.
MacNiallais said: “It’ll not be easy against Fermanagh, but we’ll give it our best shot.
“Any competition you’re in, you want to do well in it. It’d be nice to get through for another game in the semi-finals.”