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In The Irish News - Mar 13 1998: National League not that important says Finbar McConnell

SAFE PAIR OF HANDS... Tyrone goalkeeper Finbar McConnell who won the Bass/Ulster GAA Writers monthly merit award for February

ALTHOUGH the National Football League title continues to elude Tyrone, Finbar McConnell yesterday admitted it “wouldn’t be the end of the world” if they were beaten by Monaghan on Sunday.

The 28-year-old, 6’5 goalkeeper, who was speaking after collecting the Bass/Ulster GAA writers’ monthly merit award for February, said the championship was the number one priority for the Red Hands despite their healthy league position heading into the last round of fixtures.

“It would be great to beat Monaghan and reach the quarter-finals because we need to get more games under our belts, but the championship is where it’s at,” he said.

“We can’t knock the National League because we’ve never won one, but I have won Ulster championships with Tyrone when we were in division three and division one so I don’t think it’s all that important.”

Monaghan have been one of the surprise packets of the NFL this season, but the goalie says Tyrone will not be underestimating them.

“Monaghan have every right to come to Omagh full of confidence. They have been blowing hot and cold like us so it’s totally in the balance.”

McConnell picked up his second merit award, having previously lifted one in April 1995, after some outstanding displays in an Ulster jersey early last month.

Tyrone: F McConnell, D Teague, C Holmes, S McLaughlin, P Canavan, P Devlin, B Dooher, P McLaughlin, J Gormley, G Cavlan, P Canavan, S Lawn, A Cush, E Gormley, F Coyle.

Monaghan: J O’Connor, E Murphy, G McGuirk, N Marron, D McArdle, S Mullen, J Conlon, P McShane, C Ronaghan, D Swift, M Daly, K Hughes, D Smyth, D McKernan, S McGinnity.

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GOALKEEPER Damien McCusker will make his first start for Derry since last year’s Ulster final in Sunday’s crunch National League tussle with Armagh at Celtic Park.

McCusker, who plays soccer for Ballyclare Comrades, returns in place of Eoin McCloskey as one of three changes made by manager Brian Mullins from the victory over Meath a fortnight ago.

Sean Martin Lockhart has recovered from a broken toe and takes his place at centre-half-back while Castledawson’s Stephen McLarnon makes his first league start of the year at corner-forward.

Derry: D McCusker, K McKeever, H Downey, P Diamond, J McGurk, SM Lockhart, P McFlynn, A Tohill, D Dougan, G Magill, G Coleman, E Burns, AN Other, D Heaney, S McLarnon.

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ANTRIM hurling star Jim Connolly may not play again until the Ulster final showpiece in July.

The O’Donovan Rossa and inter-county midfield player will undergo a career-saving knee operation at the Ulster Clinic on March 30. Connolly has not played for Antrim since the Ulster final last July, from which Down progressed to the All-Ireland series, and last night said he will miss the entire National League campaign this season.

The Belfast man has been sidelined by a rare injury, a dislocated kneecap.

“I was playing in a challenge game for Rossa against Dunloy recently and that’s the last action I’ve seen,” he said.

“I was jogging backwards to catch the ball and twisted my left knee. I looked down and the kneecap was at the side of my leg, a good bit away from where it should have been. It was a sickening sight.

“It was just a case of popping it back into place but it will happen again and again unless the operation is done.

“It has happened four times in the past three years.”

Connolly faced a two year wait for the operation until the Antrim county board stepped in.

He will receive private treatment at the Ulster Clinic and faces a recovery period at least two months.

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TYRONE will have three senior panelists in their side for tomorrow’s Ulster U21 Football Championship tie with Armagh at Coalisland. Goalkeeper Stephen McCarron, defender Brian Meenan and attacker Barry Eccles will join the senior squad 24 hours later for the crunch National League clash with Monaghan.

Brian McGuckin, the senior side’s top scorer, is out of both games after tearing a calf muscle in last weekend’s Sigerson Cup final. Tyrone (U21 v Armagh): S McCarron, C O’Hagan, C McGinley, P McGurk, C Gourley, B Meenan, D McCrossan, C Martin, J Quinn, M Early, C McAnallen, B Eccles, C McCullagh, K Hughes, S Douglas.

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IRELAND’S amateur boxers had a disastrous start to the Tornea Italia European qualifying tournament in Venice.

Belfast feather Pat O’Donnell was among four casualties who crashed out at the first hurdle in Italy.

But O’Donnell had good cause to feel aggrieved said team-mate, light-middleweight Michael Roche from Cork.

“Pat was robbed, I was sitting at ringside and I can definitely say he should have got the decision,” said the Sunnyside boxer.

Irish champ O’Donnell (Dockers) finished level at 5-5 with Ivan Ciornei (Moldova) but a computer countback read 56-54 against the Belfast southpaw.

Other Irishmen to exit in Venice were Adrian Sheerin (Swinford), Martin Murphy (Waterford), and Dublin light welter Mark Wickham.

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