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GAA Football

Mattie Donnelly wants Tyrone to turn Healy Park into a fortress

Mattie Donnelly was man-of-the-match in Tyrone's Dr McKenna Cup final win over Derry last Saturday night
Neil Loughran

TYRONE star Mattie Donnelly wants the Red Hands to turn Healy Park into a fortress as they gear up for life back in Division One – starting at home to Roscommon this Sunday.

When they were relegated from the top flight in 2015, Tyrone managed just two points from a possible eight at the Omagh venue, losing to Monaghan and Cork and drawing with Derry and Kerry.

As well as the Rossies, Mickey Harte’s men welcome Cavan, Monaghan and Mayo to Healy Park and Donnelly knows they must fare much better than their last stab at Division One.

“Roscommon next week’s as tough as it gets in Omagh where our home record isn’t great - we have to be aware of that,” he said.

“I’m not sure [why Tyrone have struggled at Healy Park], it’s something we have to address because a lot of other counties have made their home ground into a fortress and there’s no reason why we can’t. That’s what we’ll be aiming to do this campaign.”

Making a mark early on, before the league breaks after the opening games against Roscommon and Meath, is crucial admits the Trillick ace.

“Well, if you’ve any ambitions of progressing to the latter stages, you have to get off to a good start,” continued the two-time Allstar.

“It’s not a good place to come in after that break if you’ve started off badly so that’s a big thing we’ll be targeting. It’s all part of the process, we’re not going into the campaign with any vendettas or any grudge matches, we’re just really going in knowing that we’re going in against the best opposition you can at this stage of the year.

“We know we’re going in against that and really testing our performance, testing the process and the game-plan week on week and just reviewing it every week and making sure by the time we get out of the league that we’re in a good place individually and collectively.”

Donnelly has been in and out of the team in the early weeks of the season but picked up the man-of-the-match award as the Red Hands swept past Derry in the Dr McKenna Cup final.

And the 26-year-old showed no signs of rustiness, oozing class at Pairc Esler on Saturday night as Tyrone made it six McKenna Cup titles in-a-row.

He said: “You kind of go into games apprehensive enough in January because you don’t know how sharp you are, you don’t know how fit you are so it’s good that way, mentally, to know you’re not that far off the pace.

“Again, we’re very aware that every week that goes by will increase in difficulty. It’s not going to be a straightforward graph, you’re not going to play like that every week, you’re going to have bad days where you’re going to struggle individually and as a team.

“Being mentally strong enough to know that’s going to happen and still having trust in the process that there’ll be better days ahead.”

Tyrone had to do it the hard way to land this year’s McKenna Cup after losing their opening game to Cavan, but Donnelly believes the sequence of results that delivered their latest silverware could be a blessing in disguise.

“It does no harm, it’s good for boys’ mindset maybe to start off on a negative footing and then to recover from that,” said the two-time Allstar.

“That’s good because that can happen in the league as well, you can lose a game and still know you can recover and find your form again. That’s good for boys’ psyche as well.

“After a shaky start, every game goes up in importance the more the year goes on. It’s all part of the process really of building on what you could’ve done better the week before and thankfully we’ve been doing that.

“Next week’s a step up again and we’ll have to step up with it.”

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