Ex-Hartlepool United defender back in the international fold after stunning goalscoring run for Motherwell

Ex-Hartlepool United defender Liam Donnelly has taken a step forward in more ways than one as he makes his long-awaited return to the Northern Ireland squad.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 2:12 pm
Motherwell's Liam Donnelly.
Motherwell's Liam Donnelly.

The 23-year-old made his debut for the Green and White Army five years ago as a late substitute against Chile, but he has not had a second chance since, instead collecting 24 caps with the Under-21s.

He has been close to making recent squads but Michael O’Neill could hardly leave him out for this week’s friendly with Luxembourg and the Euro 2020 qualifier against Germany after he opened the season with eight goals in eight games for Motherwell.

Not bad for a man who has spent much of his career as a centre-half, but he is certainly making the most of a move into midfield.

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“I’m starting to put a bit of pressure on myself now,” he said with a laugh. “If I go a couple of games without now it’ll be seen as a drought.

“But I’m buzzing. It’s an added bonus, the goals. I’m more focused on performance but it’s nice to get a few so hopefully they keep coming.”

Donnelly’s role at Motherwell remains primarily a defensive one, even if his goal-scoring record suggests otherwise, but Stephen Robinson’s system allows for rotation in the midfield three and it is paying dividends.

“I try and creep forward and if I hear the shout I maybe stay back,” he said. “But if I go forward usually someone slots into my place.”

Donnelly moved to Motherwell in the summer of 2018 from Hartlepool, enticed in large part by the opportunity to work for former Northern Ireland midfielder Robinson.

His first season was frustrated by a series of injuries, costing him the chance of a call-up from O’Neill during the Nations League campaign last year, but things have fallen into place this season.

“Last season was a difficult one,” he said. “It was frustrating with a few injuries, but the position sort of became vacant in the summer so I tried it out and it’s working well so far.”