The ex-Dundalk No. 10’s game has evolved over the past couple of seasons and Ruaidhri Higgins was full of praise for his defensive performance and leadership skills on display in the 4-0 win over St Pat’s last weekend.
He’s certainly not renowned for his defensive duties but his crunching tackle on St Pat’s dangerman Darragh Burns in the first half was evidence of how he’s willing to put in the hard yards for the good of the team. It's a different side of his game he felt the need to develop and he’s relishing the challenge as he works on building attacks from deep.
"Darragh Burns is an unbelievable talent and a great player so I knew I had to get over that side and double up to stop him," he said. "That was just in the moment, I knew he was a threat so decided to stay close. Athletically I think I’m able to compete with anybody as in running power and trying to get back. I know my capabilities. I’m enjoying myself at the minute. I’m playing okay and I’m out there which is the main thing, I know when I’m out there I’ll help the team.
“It’s a new thing added to my game,” he explained. “I’m coming 30 now and you sort of need to adapt with how it is. I’ve been an attacking player most of my career but the past few years I’ve moved back one, into the No. 8 role, building attacks.
“I knew I had to get better at getting the ball back if I wanted to play there. I had to get around the pitch more. I understand the game and know my role in the team. That’s the main thing, understanding what I need to do to make us better as a team.
“I think it’s something I’ve gained over the last few years. It was more because of the positional change. I knew I had to get better at it so I worked on it and getting around the pitch and getting tackles in and knowing where to be. Understanding the position and what needs to be done. I just think it’s important there’s somebody in the team willing to do it.”
Big wins over UCD (7-1) and St Pat's (4-0) have sent out a real statement that Derry are the real deal in the title race but McEleney has reminded his teammates there's a long way to go and plenty of obstacles to come.
"It kind of is a new team. We have Eoin Toal and guys like that who have been there and Jamie McGonigle but you look at the 11 at Richmond Park, you had Matty Smith, Brandon Kavanagh, myself, Cameron Dummigan, Shane(McEleney), it's all new players so for us to be sitting where we're sitting is brilliant and things can only get better the longer we keep playing together and get used to each other.
"You're going to have your ups and downs throughout the year. I've never been in a league winning side where it's been plain-sailing. It's never been like that. The first year we won it at Dundalk I think we won it by four points in 2016. Another time we were 13 points behind at one stage so it's never plain sailing. You will have your ups and downs and it's how you handle them is the main thing.
"We have a tough few games coming up but we started well with the Pats game. They're all tough games and results have shown that. The Shelbourne result, the Drogheda one - there's no easy games.
"The St Pats game does send out a statement I suppose," he agreed. "It's just clicked into place over the past two games with regards to goals. It was a massive win for us but it's only three points and the same as winning 1-0 so we'll just take it as it is and move on.
"It's all going well at the minute and we're getting our plaudits but nothing's done yet. We're only a short way there and Shamrock Rovers are obviously still the team to beat."
Rovers will continue to breath down Derry necks and even with the speculation surrounding the future of Hoops boss Stephen Bradley who has been heavily linked with a move to Lincoln City, McEleney doesn't believe it will impact the Dubliners' title tilt.
"It's no secret, he's obviously put it out himself that he's speaking to somebody and good luck to him if he goes," said the ex-Oldham Athletic and Sunderland man. "Obviously losing your manager anywhere if you're in a successful team is going to hurt but they have a bunch of amazing players who are strong and know how to win things so nothing will change in that department with Shamrock Rovers. I can guarantee you that. Especially short term.
"As much as he's a top, top manager they're still an amazing team and that's all that matters. We just keep our heads down and concentrate on ourselves."
McEleney and his midfield partners will have to be on top of their game once more tonight as Bohemians roll into town and while he's expecting a tough test, he's confident Derry can get the job done.
"It's going to be a tough one. They have the likes of (Dawson) Devoy and (Liam) Burt, (Promise) Omochere and Junior (Ogedi-Uzokwe) so they have lots of good players and we know their strengths and how much of a threat they can be. That's up to us. We have to prepare properly and be ready. We're in good form and every game we're going out to win. It's going to be tight but it will be a good one."