Martin McElhinney says the current Donegal squad is the best he’s been involved in.
Considering he was part of the All-Ireland SFC win in 2012 under Jim McGuinness and is a multiple Ulster champion, it’s a big statement to make but one he’s happy to stand over such is his confidence in the group that’s been assembled under Declan Bonner.
“There’s loads of competition this year in fairness and it’s a very strong squad there — probably as strong a squad as I have been involved in. There are boys that can come in at any position. Nothing is set in stone so that’s why I think it’s the best squad yet and there’s still a lot to come back in.
“There’s loads of opportunities there for fellas so it’s just a matter of putting your hands up there and taking it when you get a chance.”
The 30-year-old was the only All-Ireland winner lining out for a young Donegal side in Sunday’s McKenna Cup win over Down in Newry.
He kicked 0-4 from play and did his chances of playing regularly this year no harm at all.
Boss Bonner finished with three U20s on the field. He counted afterwards that between the missing Gweedore contingent and the quality of Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh, Paddy McBrearty, Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath, Leo McLoone and Eoghan Bán Gallagher still to return, he had 15 players unavailable on Sunday who will be there come championship.
Competition like that is why McElhinney didn’t shirk the task of making the trek across to Newry on the first Sunday of January.
“In years gone by, I might’ve ducked out of the McKenna Cup,” he admits.
“But it’s good to get back in there and to get 60 to 70 minutes under my belt.
“We’ve the main players to come back in and that will be a real bonus but there are boys there definitely putting up their hands. When you have the same 15 players things can go stale. But there’s no point in having a good squad though unless you’re going to take it into the league and then the championship.”
McElhinney missed a lot of last year through injury but a healthy body and a move back to Donegal after eight years based in Dublin should ensure a better 2019, and he’s had a good pre-season to build on.
“It makes a big difference not travelling up from Dublin. You were driving up for three hours and it took you an hour to even loosen out and then the session’s over half an hour later.
“Now you can go early and prepare. I always had an appetite for it and I wouldn’t have been travelling up and down from Dublin if I didn’t have an appetite for it. I still enjoy it and that’s the main one.”