Head injury forces Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly to miss League game with Dublin
MATTIE Donnelly will miss Tyrone’s Division One clash with Dublin at Croke Park.
The Trillick clubman was forced out of the opening day win over Roscommon after just 15 minutes following a blow to the head.
That injury has ruled him out of the trip to face Jim Gavin’s Dubs, who go into the game on the back of a 30-game unbeaten run in League and Championship.
In Donnelly’s absence, Peter Harte has been named at centre half-back.
Manager Mickey Harte has made two other changes to the side that began life back in the top flight with an impressive six-point win over Kevin McStay’s Rossies.
Niall Morgan returns in goal in place of Clonoe’s Mickey O’Neill and midfielder Padraig McNulty returns after missing the Roscommon game with a dead leg.
Meanwhile, Declan McClure, who made his League debut as McNulty’s replacement, holds on to his place but moves from midfield to the half-forward line.
Sean Cavanagh has again been named amongst the subs. Cavanagh played 12 minutes against Roscommon and will again have to settle for making an impact from the bench
His former team-mate Stephen O’Neill doesn’t see the Moy man being content with a place on the bench in this his 34th year and his 16th season in the county’s senior ranks.
O’Neill, who won three All-Ireland titles along with the Moy man, believes a starting place must be the target for Cavanagh, and will benefit both player and team.
“Knowing Sean, he will not be settling for a place on the subs’ bench,” he said.
“I don’t know what way training has been going over the last couple of weeks, but I’m sure Sean, for somebody with his quality, will be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
“A player with that ability, that size, that power and strength, you’ll not hold him down for too long.”
Former Footballer of the Year O’Neill believes a strong League campaign is an important element in Tyrone’s preparations for a big Championship challenge later this year.
“I think they need to make a good statement in the League, and I think we have the players now to do that,” he said.
“Whenever you have a good strong League campaign, it helps the mood of the whole camp.
“And I know from previous years, when we were playing, any time you were doing well in the League, the whole lead-up then to the championship was a lot easier.
“People were in good places mentally and physically, and I think a good league showing this year would bode well for the championship.”
The Red Hands reached the latter stages of the All-Ireland Championship over the past couple of seasons despite being in transition, and O’Neill believes the team has now matured and is ready to re-visit the glory days of the Noughties.
“We have the players just at the right age. A lot of that 2008 minor team are there now, and you have Mattie [Donnelly] and Petey [Harte], they’re great leaders,” he said.
“You mix that in with the older lads like Sean, Aidan McCrory, who are a very steadying influence
“I think that we will not be far away, and I’m hoping that, as a supporter.”
Last year’s Ulster Championship triumph – the county’s first in six years – provided further evidence of progress, and served to galvanise the team and boost the confidence of individuals within it.
“It was the first Ulster Senior Championship for a lot of those boys, and that will give them great confidence going into this year.
“I feel that we can build on that now. I know the Mayo game last year was disappointing. We just didn’t get going, it was just one of those days when nothing clicked into gear for even a ten minute spell.
“But we were just a point away from that, and we hadn’t played well. We didn’t do ourselves justice, and I feel that that disappointment will drive boys on.”
O’Neill is looking forward to this weekend’s Croke Park clash with Dublin as a possible prelude to a Championship meeting with the All-Ireland champions further down the line.
The Dubs are being touted in many quarters as unbeatable, but the Clan nan Gael man believes the Red Hands can break that aura of invincibility.
“I feel very strongly that’s the case,” he said. “From knowing some of the players, they’ll thrive on meeting Dublin in the League, especially down in Croke Park, and it’s going to be a massive, massive game.
“It’s one I’m looking forward to, and I hope that Tyrone lay down a marker.
“It all leads up to the Championship, and I’m sure Mickey will be looking to the players that he has in his panel, newer players, and getting a good look at them over the course of the League.
“He’ll be plotting and planning how he can use those players, and I hope that we will have a nice long summer.”
Tyrone: N Morgan; P Hampsey, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, P Harte, J Munroe; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; C Meyler, N Sludden, D McClure; D McCurry, C McShane, R O’Neill
Subs: M O’Neill, M Bradley, L Brennan, R Brennan, S Cavanagh, C McCann, A McCrory, C McCullagh, HP McGeary, Justin McMahon, D Mulgrew, F Burns, R McHugh