Liam Donnelly: Feeling at Home

Midfielder Liam Donnelly discusses balancing football and family commitments and appraises his performances during a consistent run of games in the engine room.


In Derek McInnes, Kilmarnock have a manager who understands how to manage each individual, offering flexibility where it is needed. The difference that makes cannot be underestimated, with Liam rating the boss at the top of the league for the way he treats players.

“He’s probably got a lot of praise for that and I’d say the same myself that he’s probably the best at man management on that personal level that I’ve worked with in my career. He’s very accommodating for anybody with family, and for any of the lads whose family don’t stay up here. If there’s anything you need, if you need to shoot off on a certain day, or if something comes up where you need a day off, he’s always accommodating when it comes to family.

“It’s probably a thing that footballers don’t tend to get thought of, as normal people. But we are, outside of the job. As much as we’re in a privileged position, doing something we enjoy and obviously you get paid quite well, we’re still humans with our own families and our own personal lives outside of that.”

With children waiting at home, the graft doesn’t finish at 4.45pm on a Saturday when the tidying up of midfield is done.

“I’m one of those who stay a bit away in Uddingston, and I try to get home to the family as soon as I can. But obviously there’s times when you’re in there, and it’s a good environment in the club. We’ve done well this season as a team and there’s a good buzz around the place at the minute. There’s a good togetherness in the squad.”

So what of the less important stuff then: the football? Liam did everything but score this season, his late charges into the box to meet crosses coming agonisingly close, most notably at Celtic Park. Although the career stats say that the defensive midfielder is just that, a defensive midfielder, there was a six-month spell at Motherwell when he was troubling the seasoned strikers in the scoring charts.

In that season, 2019/20, a campaign curtailed due to Covid-19, Liam’s seven strikes counted for nearly one in five of Motherwell’s league goals as they qualified for Europa League football.

“It’s maybe just different set-ups in different teams. To be fair, back then I was taking set pieces and there was a few penalties in there. It’s one of those things where you get on a run. It’s a bit like Marley, when you get on a run you get the knack of it and things seem to just land for you and you seem to be in the right position.

“But I was under no illusions that the goals I was scoring then would be a regular thing!

“I’m probably more prominently defensive, getting stuck in and doing the nasty side really. Winning the ball back, winning tackles. Obviously trying to get on it as well and get things moving in midfield, that’s part of the role, backing up the play. I’ve got into a few positions, especially at set plays, where I’ve been a bit of a threat attacking them. I have come close a few times, and I’ve been quite annoyed at myself on the couple of occasions where I haven’t actually hit the net with the headers.”

Since December, the Northern Ireland international enjoyed more frequent starts. And similar to last season, it is the latter months which are witnessing his best form.

“On both occasions, this season and last season, I missed the initial pre-season, the running and hard work side of it. I think when I came in both times, I needed to hit the ground running to get that fitness level to where it needs to be. Because I missed pre-season, I was playing catchup and my body probably wasn’t physically ready to be playing at the level that was needed. So I’d pick up a few wee niggly injuries which would keep me out for a few weeks here and there.

“It’s just really about trying to get past that and get a run where I’m regularly fit, training regularly, and more available for selection. Since just before Christmas that’s been the case and I would say that hopefully my form this year has been a bit more regular a bit earlier in the season. Last season it was a bit closer to the end, but this season, I’ve been quite happy with it.

“I’d probably say that it was the best run of form since that time at Motherwell when I was scoring the goals and doing well. I’m quite happy with how things are at the minute, on a personal level and on a team level it’s nice too. I’m not really one that needs praise or anything like that but obviously it’s nice if it’s getting the recognition and hopefully it continues.”

Looking to capitalise on his strong season with Motherwell, injury struck, restricting Liam’s involvement to a solitary league game. There is still specific work that needs to be done, along with, ironically, looking forward to pre-season. Well, sort of.

“There’s still some things I do every week in terms of a gym programme. It’s probably taken me until now, maybe 27, 28, to start actually understanding my body properly, physically, in terms of what I need to do regularly to try and keep on top of injuries that happened previously. But there’s definitely still a regular programme I need to do for the knee to keep on top of all of that to try to make sure that it stays away. In terms of the knee, it’s all good but I do need to keep doing strengthening work to make sure there’s no problems in the future.

“I don’t think anyone particularly looks forward to pre-season. It’s not the nicest doing all the running but it’s really valuable in terms of getting to that place where you’re ready to go at the start of the season and not picking up those niggly injuries that can then disrupt your availability. So I’m not particularly looking forward to it but I’m looking forward to having a pre-season under my belt.”