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Injury-free Anthony McDonald sees new season as fresh start with Caley Thistle

Anthony McDonald, left, with first scorer for Caley Thistle against Buckie Thistle, Lewis Jamieson.
Anthony McDonald, left, with first scorer for Caley Thistle against Buckie Thistle, Lewis Jamieson.

Caley Thistle midfielder Anthony McDonald has come through 18 months of injury agony – now he’s ready to show what he can finally do for the Championship leaders.

The 20-year-old former Hearts starlet has been sidelined with back and knee injuries in recent years, which have slowed his career, which has included previous loan stint with ICT and Dunfermline Athletic.

After a spell in Spanish third tier side Cordoba failed to materialise as planned, former Caley Jags boss and Hearts legend John Robertson persuaded him to return to the Highlands in February. 

However, he was barely back through the Caledonian Stadium doors when he suffered a knee injury which wrecked any chance of game time last term under interim manager Neil McCann.

After a late appearance as a substitute against Hearts in the Premier Sports Cup, McDonald played and impressed in Saturday’s 4-0 SPFL Trust Trophy win against Highland League visitors Buckie Thistle.

Tough being on the sidelines

The attacking middle man is confident on and off the pitch and he hopes the bad luck is behind him.

He said: “I have had 18-19 months of not playing football, which has been horrible for me. It was mentally very tough.

“I signed here in February then a few days into training I did my knee and needed to get an operation. I’ve not had the luck, but I am back now and sharp and it’s all about minutes on the pitch now.

Former Caley Thistle manager, now sporting director, John Robertson brought talented midfielder Anthony McDonald back to Inverness this year.

“I felt I played well on Saturday. In the first half, I felt sharp, while in the second half it was sharp as Buckie sat off and shut off all the spaces, which was difficult to try and play through.

“You can do all the training you want, but nothing replicates a game and that’s what you need to get your match sharpness.”

Robbo call led to Highland return

McDonald explained that Robertson’s call earlier this year allowed him to a return to a club he felt at home within during his loan move in 2019.

He added: “I enjoyed it here the first time around. Things didn’t work out for me in Spain and I was without a club for three months, which wasn’t nice. Robbo, who I’ve known for years, got in contact with me and it was an easy decision for me to come back.

Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds, whose side have won all four Championship fixtures 1-0 this season to lead the table.

“Neil McCann was here when I came back and then I done my knee. The gaffer (Billy Dodds) has been really good with me, so hopefully I can get games and try and push on.”

The weekend’s cup win earned the Highlanders a third-round trip to Elgin City on October 9.

Second successive clash of Thistles

More pressing is Saturday’s first against second Championship match at home to Partick Thistle.

ICT have racked up four 1-0 victories in the league and McDonald knows concedes that he and many others waiting on their chances from the bench or the stand will have to be patient as the team performs to such levels.

He said: “We have won every game in the league this season, so the manager’s not going to change the team.

Anthony McDonald hopes his impressive performance against Buckie Thistle will be noted by head coach Billy Dodds.

“A lot of boys are waiting patiently for their chance. Saturday was a good opportunity to try and push into the team and a few boys have done that.

“From a personal point of view, it has been tough. After coming back from such a long injury that was tough to get games.

“Every minute on the pitch counts for me. I am just trying to get myself back to full sharpness and go from there.”

Patience key to cup progression

Looking back at the weekend’s win against well-organised and, at times, dangerous opponents Buckie, McDonald admitted it required time and patience before pulling clear with three second half goals to add to Lewis Jamieson’s opener.

He said: “We always knew it was going to be a difficult game. Buckie came out with a good game plan, which worked well.

“There were key moments in the game where quality showed and we done well to get the win.

Anthony McDonald was a rising star with Hearts.

“It’s tough when you are the heavy favourites. We were good in the first half when we moved the ball quickly, but in the second half they came out with an improved game plan than the first half.

“They sat in very well and tried to keep it tight. It was difficult to play through. When we scored our second goal, they had to come at us and the game opened up and that’s when the chances came and the boys finished then off well.”

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