GAA Football

Extra experience helped Tyrone's dominant display against Donegal - Mattie Donnelly

Mattie Donnelly helped Tyrone rise above Donegal again in Sunday's Ulster SFC semi-final.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

THE extra year's experience for many in the Tyrone ranks made a big difference against new-look Donegal, according to Mattie Donnelly.

The Trillick noted how many pundits had talked up the boost provided to the Tir Chonaill team by their 'new blood', especially after they beat Tyrone well in Division One, but suggested that it takes time to acclimatise to Championship:

"We have much the same panel this year as last year, so we probably had another year's development in us physically and in terms of chemistry as well. Boys have been working on being more clinical.

"We were quite content with what we had. Obviously the way we left Ballybofey that night, the way Donegal had the upper hand…

"They probably felt they should have beat us last year [in the Ulster Final] and then they had the younger fellas in this year that were going to make the difference. That gave us a point to prove. We had a big one in us, when it was needed."

Indeed Donnelly tentatively agreed that Sunday's Ulster SFC semi-final showing against Donegal was arguably the best performance during his time with Tyrone throughout this decade:

"I thought about that. There've been a lot of good performances in the Tyrone jersey from Tyrone teams. A lot of days where you just felt like we did on the pitch today - that we were in control, commanding, focussed and disciplined.

"In recent memory, it probably is. People thought the game was going to be a lot closer than it was. So to win it convincingly, it's fresh in the memory and I would have to say it is, yeah.

"That seems to be the beat on the street. Everyone outside the circle probably didn't see it coming.

"We knew it was building inside of us, we knew in the circle. Obviously a lot of people will read into a bit of form in the League and even the first day [in Championship, against Derry].

"But Mickey [Harte] is always saying 'You bring out your best when it is required' and we felt it was required [against Donegal].

"So we did that. We are happy with the majority of the performance and it is good to be coming away having things to work on for the final."

Mention of improvements required is unsurprising, but given that Tyrone scored 1-21, 1-19 from play, it may be a shock that Donnelly was displeased by some of his side's shooting:

"Shot selection, by myself and the whole team, can still be improved on. We're going to have to lift it up another level for the final.

"Look, we have been working a lot on our transition, and a lot of it was good. But some of the shot selection we can work on and we can bring to training now.

"When you have a good performance and you still have a lot to work on, it is a good place to be."

That final phrase applies also to being in the Tyrone set-up, according to Donnelly, despite suggestions from some pundits that being involved with the Red Hands cannot be enjoyable:

"Look, there is an impression out there that football is joyless. But it's from people who are not playing it.

"You ask anyone in our squad, they enjoy it. Number one, you enjoy training, you enjoy each other's company that's the main thing.

"We like coming to training, Mickey, 'Horse' [Gavin Devlin], and Peter [Donnelly] always have something different every night.

"We enjoy the training and the lifestyle of the county footballer. We are not monks all the time, we enjoy living healthy, but we enjoy going out and spending time with each other and winning in the Tyrone jersey.

"It really is a privilege. You mightn't be fit to do it, you might be sitting in the stand and you might be injured, so you really have to appreciate it when you are there."

Donnelly did hurt himself in what proved to be a pivotal moment of Sunday's semi-final, despite the risk that he might be forced off the pitch in one way or another.

The Trillick man raced across the pitch to close down Eoin McHugh, the same Donegal player with whom he had collided in last year's Ulster Final, leading to a controversial black card for Donnelly.

This time Donnelly was able to pick himself up and play on, perhaps having put the Kilcar flyer off his shot a little, with the ball dragged wide rather than ending up in the net.

Donnelly was able to look back at the latest incident and smile, saying: "I suppose we probably weren't set up the way we should have been at that stage. I had seen him sneaking in from the far side and I was over the other side.

"I took off in desperation. Sometimes you just come up against a boy like that who is quick and I didn't get to him in time. We probably should have been set up better on that side.

"There was desperation there and I was thinking if I did get there, you might be looking at a card here. But thankfully the ball went wide. That's what you get on days like this, the rub of the green."

The upshot of Tyrone's terrific display is that they still hold on to the Anglo-Celt Cup, but Donnelly insists their mindset is that the trophy has to be grasped, not just held onto:

"We don't see it as we are defending anything. We are going for the Ulster title in 2017, against the two remaining teams on the other side.

"The tradition of Ulster football is that things are always hard got, there is never much in them and it is going to be no different here in a few weeks' time. We are going to out, go at it in the same manner and see what happens".

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