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Donnelly backing Red Hands to sink Donegal

Tony Donnelly hopes they can push Donegal all the way on Sunday

FORMER Tyrone assistant manager Tony Donnelly firmly believes the Red Hands have the talent and desire to defeat defending Ulster champions Donegal in Sunday’s provincial opener in Ballybofey.

Given recent Championship results between the sides, as well as the hammering Donegal handed to Mickey Harte’s side at the end of March, few observers give Tyrone a chance this weekend.

But Donnelly begs to differ, and was hugely impressed by the Tyrone squad when he was drafted in as managerial cover for Harte in the drawn game with Kerry last month.

The popular Augher clubman also confirmed that he wouldn’t be staying on in the Tyrone dug-out.

“It was one match only,” said Donnelly.

“It was short notice. It was an odd experience coming in and knowing you weren’t staying. But the boys were very welcoming and made it very easy for me, they really did.

“I was in on Thursday night and I enjoyed that three or four-day period with the lads. I’ve obviously commitments with my club, Augher.

“I have to say, I was very impressed with the attitude of the lads and their determination. Against Kerry, we created enough chances to win the game. I just regret we didn’t get the result that would have kept Tyrone in Division One.”

Donnelly added: “This Tyrone team has enormous ability. Their ball handling, their use of the ball are tremendous and the energy levels of the team are there.

“I definitely believe the determination and motivation are there. All the qualities that back up ability are there.

“They’ve been keeping their heads down over the last number of weeks – there hasn’t been much talking done in the press.

“You just get the feeling that this team is really focused in getting the performance out of themselves that is going to be required to get a result in Ballybofey.”

A long-time assistant to Harte until he stepped aside at the end of last season, Donnelly has bitter memories of Championship clashes with Donegal since Jim McGuinness took over.

In their 2011 Ulster semi-final, the Tir Chonaill men edged out Tyrone in Clones, thanks to a couple of late goals.

Donegal had the upper hand in subsequent provincial meetings with Tyrone in 2012 and 2013.

“It is a case of who blinks first between Tyrone and Donegal. When you’re playing Donegal you know you’ve got to keep the scoreline tight. If they get away from you at any stage of the game they seem to go on to another level after that.

“A goal in games like these is a massive score; it’s a massive score in any game but particularly between Donegal and Tyrone.

“They’ve got goals against Tyrone at crucial times and they’ve got away from us, and that’s the way the games have panned out.”

Donnelly continued: “Obviously Tyrone will want to keep it tight or get ahead and force Donegal into a rethink. Because of that burst of five or 10 minutes of scoring that they do, tactically, they put you on the back foot, and you have to change things to chase them down.

“I would love to see the game going into the last 15 minutes with the scoreboard still totally in the balance, and to see a grandstand finish. I would take that [scenario] now.”

Donnelly feels that Sean Cavanagh’s influence will be pivotal to the outcome on Sunday. The Moy clubman wasn’t fit to start in the League clash on March 29 as Donegal ran out 1-13 to 0-6 winners.

“If Tyrone can produce a 70-minute performance, I think they will put it up to Donegal and possibly get the win.

“What I seen when I was in with the squad before the Kerry game were the leadership qualities of Sean Cavanagh. He is as important to Tyrone as Michael Murphy is to Donegal.”

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