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16th May 2022

If you’re going into battle alongside Gareth Mckinless, then you will always have a chance

Lee Costello

A teammate you would love to have, and an opponent you would hate to face.

Gareth Mckinless picked up the Man of the Match award yesterday evening following his fantastic performance against Monaghan, in the Ulster championship semi-final.

The Ballinderry man ran riot at the Athletic Grounds, with number six on his back, but playing midfield, and bombing forward to get the opening goal of the game; there isn’t a blade of grass on that pitch that didn’t at least once bear the weight of his boots.

Famed for his running from deep positions – normally at centre back – and getting involved in the attack, creating space and setting up scores, Rory Gallagher’s decision to move him into a slightly more advanced position in the middle of the park has been a revelation.

Although this experiment was initially due to an injury picked up by Emmet Bradley, it has paid dividends against both Tyrone and Monaghan.

Take away the fact that he scored the first goal of the match, following a mazy run that cut the Farney county right through the middle, it’s his relentless work rate off the ball that makes him so important.

No sooner had he buried that goal, and he was right back at the heart of the Derry defence, in behind the half back line, dictating to his players where to go.

He tackles the opposition like he has absolutely no regard for his own health or safety, putting his head first and leaping with diving blocks that most people wouldn’t even attempt.

Every player likes to think that they never give up, but when you see him chasing attackers who are way ahead of him, or springing his whole body forward to intercept a ball that he has no chance of getting, it is truly inspirational to watch.

Managers and coaches will tell you that if you at least work back and go for those 60/40 or 70/30 balls, even though you’re on the wrong end of the odds, at the very least you will put pressure on the favoured player, eliminate some of his options and even force a mistake.

In both Ulster championship games, McKinless has been on the ground with the Derry doctor checking his eyes with the little torch, to check if he may be suffering from a concussion following a heavy hit.

The Oakleaf medical teams must have their work cut out for them, as they no sooner pack their kits away, to see the willing warrior already in the middle of another clattering clash.

There is of course that nasty streak in his game too; as much as you would love to play with him, he must be a nightmare to play against, constantly talking, chirping away, leaving shoulders in, buying fouls and keeping the referee on his side.

This bit of gamesmanship is a part of all winners – they can play on the edge and walk that very fine line of being aggressive, yet calculated.

With players like Shane McGuigan, Benny Heron and Niall Loughlin occupying the opponents’ thoughts with their scoring capabilities, Declan Bonner’s attention will no doubt be turned to McKinless and what to do with him.

Alongside other quality operators such as Brendan Rodgers and Chrissy McKaigue, Donegal really will have their hands full in this Ulster final, and Sunday’s Man of the Match winner will no doubt be right at the heart of those problems.

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