A summer in the Big Apple helped to revitalise Odhrán MacNiallais’ intercounty career.
The Gaoth Dobhair man has been starring for Donegal since 2014, but decided to take a break last year.
His county missed him dearly, but the break did MacNiallais no harm. He won the New York Championship while in the States, and returned home determined to help Donegal to provincial glory this season.
“I took the year out, just because I wasn’t really enjoying the football, and I wasn’t really happy,” said Mac Niallais.
“I wanted to get away for a bit and enjoy myself, and take a break from the panel.
“I did that and I had a great time in New York, but I did miss playing for Donegal when I was over there.
“I was eager to get back in during the winter, and to meet up with the boys again.
“It’s been a great season so far, even though the league didn’t go to plan when we were relegated.
“But we didn’t really focus on winning the league – we were just working and preparing for the championship, and you can see that work now.
“We have the Anglo Celt and that’s all we wanted.”
Mac Niallais curled over an exquisite point to open Donegal’s account in the Ulster Final against Fermanagh.
That score came at a time when the match was tight, and clear-cut opportunities were few and far between.
Donegal were patient, and for the most part didn’t rush their play.
However, they still finished up with a terrific tally of 2-18, which was very impressive considering the Erne county were set up ultra defensively at times.
“It’s great to score 2-18 any day you go out, but to do it in an Ulster Final is unbelievable.
“We set out at the start of the season back in November, and I remember those meetings, and our only goal was to win the Ulster Championship.
“That was the main focus and we have been building towards this since then, and every training session and every league match was about building towards the first game with Cavan.
“The team has improved with every game, and to win Ulster today is just amazing.
“We didn’t win it for four years and we lost two finals in that time, and to just have the Anglo Celt back now is brilliant.”
Mac Niallais played in six of Donegal’s seven league games, but his championship campaign didn’t go exactly to plan.
An injury picked up while on club duty saw him miss the opening match with Cavan.
He then had to settle for cameo appearances off the bench against Derry and Down before winning a spot in the team for Sunday’s Ulster Final.
“I have struggled with a few injuries over the last couple of months, and to be fair to the lads that were playing, I couldn’t just walk straight back into the team.
“I had to fight for a spot, and I just did my best at training. Thankfully Declan had the trust to put me in for Fermanagh.
“To be honest, you don’t really mind if you play or not. You just want to get that trophy and that’s all that matters really.”
Mac Niallais earned his spot by impressing off the bench, and a number of his teammates were looking to follow suit on Sunday.
Cian Mulligan, Mark McHugh, and Darach O’Connor all notched points when introduced, and MacNiallais believes that Donegal have a lot of quality in their team.
“Yeah definitely. You wouldn’t believe that competition there is at training every night.
“The quality is off the scale, and every man in the panel is there for a reason.
“They’re all top, top players, and everyone is pushing. Everyone knows that if you are lucky enough to get off the bench, then you have to show what you’ve got.
“That’s what happened against Fermanagh. All the boys worked hard right to the end, and you had a few boys like Mark McHugh, Cian Mulligan, and ‘Jigger’ (Darach O’Connor) who got scores.”
Mac Niallais and his teammates basked in the glory of their win and celebrated with supporters until the early hours of the morning in the Abbey Hotel.
However, the 25-year-old took the time to remember two Donegal gaels, who sadly passed by in recent years, but who would have taken great pleasure from Sunday’s win.
MacNiallais was involved with Donegal when the late Pat Shovelin was Goalkeeping coach, and as a gealgoir, he often gave interviews to Raidio na Gaeltachta broadcaster, Séamus Mac Géidigh who died suddenly two years ago.
“Pat Shovelin is in all our thoughts, and this is for Pat.
“Also two years ago when we got to the final, I really wanted to win for Séamus Mac Géidigh.
“Unfortunately we lost that day, but thankfully we have won it this year, and this is for Séamus as well.”
Donegal now advance through to the All-Ireland series, and they are thrilled to be participating in the very first running of the Super 8s.
They will have three difficult games, but are targeting a spot in the semi.
“You want to be in the Super 8s – that’s where all the best teams will be.
“At the start of the year you wanted to win Ulster, and then that obviously puts you into the Super 8s.
“We’re going to get three tough games, starting with the Dubs in Croke Park.
“We also have a game in Ballybofey, where we have a very good record, and you’d be looking to win that one.
“Hopefully we will do enough in the other two games to reach the All-Ireland semi-final.”