In The Irish News on May 15 1997: Tyrone's Noel Donnelly makes Championship comeback for Down clash
NOEL Donnelly last night spoke of his relief to be back playing for Tyrone in the Ulster Championship.
The Drumquin man was forced to retire from the inter-county scene five years ago because of a hernia, but has defied medical opinion to claim a starting berth in the Ulster champions’ side to face Down at Clones on Sunday.
“Playing in the National League this year was something I needed to do when I was only coming back on to the scene, but the championship is what it’s all about,” he said.
“I didn’t know if I would ever play at this level again and it feels brilliant to be back.”
The 28-year-old’s last experiences of the championship pressure cooker are not altogether pleasant.
His last game was in 1992 when Tyrone lost to Derry at Celtic Park.
After that disappointing defeat, his stomach and hernia problems forced him to reluctantly step aside, after being told by doctors he could not continue playing at that level.
But just sitting and watching was something the schoolteacher found difficult. “It was very upsetting for the first year or two after I stopped playing.
“I couldn’t even go to watch Tyrone play, and when they began having so much success I wished so much I was there.”
Donnelly didn’t have an operation but has discovered other ways of overcoming the problem.
“There are various treatments I take and I go to physio a lot - I watch my diet too. “I wouldn’t say that I’ve totally overcome the problem but it’s manageable now - something it wasn’t before.”
Donnelly, a teacher in Omagh Christian Brothers School, admits he still hasn’t quite beat the pain barrier. “I feel okay during the games but sometimes there is a sickness afterwards, but I’ve no excuses.”
PADDY Donnelly is set to defend his Northern Ireland Billiards crown tonight.
He contests the final of this year’s event, sponsored by Belfast Crystal and the West Belfast Club, in his home club.
Donnelly, who has dominated the three-ball game for the past couple of seasons after a fairly lean time in the late ‘80s early ‘90s, will obviously start favourite when he comes up against clubmate Tony Buttimer.
Buttimer is appearing in his first ever billiards final.
However the reigning champion will have to be at his best, as the challenger has been getting fairly substantial scores on the board and fully deserves his place in the final.
In his semi-final match against veteran Marcus Dickson, Buttimer won 790 to 604.
Donnelly saw off another former champion, Sammy Clarke, on a 780 to 594 scoreline.
TOMMY Evans will defend his FBD Milk RAS title this year after all.
Banbridge rider Evans looked certain to pull out of the race, which starts this weekend, several weeks ago due to work commitments.
But the 1996 winner is a late call-up to the Ireland team following the withdrawal of Eugene Moriarty this week.
The Irish team, managed by Belfast man Frank Campbell, includes Peter Daly, Leslie McKay, Bill Moore, Ciaran Power and Evans.
Evans beat Olympic Road Race star David McCann to the finish line last year.