When winter arrived in 2016, Leo McLoone couldn’t stomach the thought of going back to the grind with Donegal.
Instead of hopping into the car and heading for Convoy, where Donegal slog during the dark, bitter evenings, McLoone put his feet up.
He watched from afar as Donegal unravelled last summer and there were fears that his inter-county career had ended at 27.
McLoone was a regular under Jim McGuinness, winning an All-Ireland in 2012 on top of three Ulster Championships, but somehow fell out of favour during Rory Gallagher’s reign in the Donegal hotseat.
“I wasn’t enjoying it,” McLoone, coaxed back for another go by Declan Bonner, said.
“I was finding it tough, doing the same training and just not getting game time.
“It was frustrating and it was impacting on me. It was a tough decision to take the year out, but I feel that it’s given me a boost to come in and give it a good push.
“When you’re on the bench you always just want to get on the field. When you’re not in the panel you don’t have that option.
“When you’re at training doing the same as everyone else, you want to try and help your team as best you can. Getting on the field is an important part of that.
“It was tough watching in from the sidelines. That’s not easy. It gives you the added incentive to get back in.”
McLoone was sprung from the bench at 16 when his club, Naomh Conaill from Glenties, won its first Donegal SFC in 2005, and was part of a golden generation in Donegal that reached an U21 All-Ireland final in 2010.
A key cog in McGuinness’s wheel, he returned to the Donegal set-up after Bonner was installed – but not before the Donegal Town-based teacher carefully considered his options.
He said: “It’s always a big decision. It’s a lot of commitment and effort to come into it.
“It was a tough one, but an easy one at the same time. I was excited to come back and give it a lash. In a few years time, I’ll be over the hill, so it’s good to get back at it.
“I want to make up for lost time.
“I’m delighted to be back. I’m really enjoying it. I’m getting loads of game time and gelling in with the young players I wouldn’t have played with before. It’s good to be back.”
Donegal have lost their opening two League games against Kerry and Galway. Both times, Donegal fell short by a point.
This weekend, they head for Croke Park to meet Dublin.
McLoone said: “It’s tough, but we are taking a lot of positives out of the games. It’s not as if we’re getting beat by five or ten points.
“We’re running the teams close. We’re trying new things and we’re getting to grips with it. We have no points on the board, but we’re positive about how we’re playing.”Tags: