McDonald a real star of the present and future as Slaneysiders eye title
SUFFICE to say there was a sharp intake of breath in Cusack Park last Saturday evening from those with a connection to the Wexford under-21 team when Conor McDonald came off after 71 minutes, apparently nursing an eye injury.
Wexford's brightest star of a currently sparkling constellation had bagged 1-1, even if his misses and those of fellow U21 team-mate Jack Guiney cost Liam Dunne's men some much coveted scoring momentum after half-time, when an expansion of their advantage would probably have sent the All-Ireland champions out on their own turf and given the Slaneysiders that big win all breakthrough teams need.
Three weeks earlier, McDonald scored 0-2 against Dublin in Wexford Park but his influence far outranks those simple numbers.
He beat an All Star full-back, Peter Kelly, repeatedly to aerial deliveries and it was only when Paul Schutte switched onto McDonald that the edge was taken from his goal and point-scoring threat.
Afterwards, Anthony Daly predicted he would be a "great forward". Few who saw the game disagreed.
"A young player coming in he will have a graph with his performances," says Guiney, his team-mate.
"His first few performances if he is not nervous are probably going to be very good because he is an unknown quantity and he is a fantastic player with great skill, great eye for a ball and a great strike.
"If a lad can come in and perform as an unknown quantity, he can clean up as he has been doing.
"You might find that for the rest of the year or maybe next year his level might go down a bit but it's won't be because he's not trying. It's just the way it goes.
"Lads are going to cop on to what he is very good at and they will try and put someone who is strong that way as well on him. Against Dublin Peter Kelly's strength is catching a ball but Conor can catch a ball on anyone.
"Maybe it was Peter Kelly's pride or his knowledge in his own ability that he can catch a ball that stopped him from sticking up the hurl and knocking it away like Schutte did," added Guiney.
"Teams are going to be looking to do that to Conor but you'll find he won't be too long changing it up again and he'll go up and down and once he finds a level of consistency then he's going to be a top class player."
McDonald, like Guiney, has been named to start for Wexford tonight but the toll it takes on their ability to greater punish Clare in next Saturday's senior champonship replay in Wexford Park has been the cause of much annoyance this week on Slaneyside.
Indeed, the whole of Wexford GAA appears to be nursing grievances this week and perhaps that makes tonight's task even tougher for Dublin.
Almost certainly, he'll be tracked by Cian O'Callaghan, a team-mate on the impressive UCD team that won this year's Freshers All-Ireland colleges title.
He watched in Wexford Park as Kelly struggled before Schutte thrived but McDonald's abilities are no great secret to him.
"He's a serious hurler," O'Callaghan notes.
"He wins his own ball, scores. He's a good goal threat as well.
"You have to keep an eye on him all the time, otherwise he could be gone."