GAA Football

Tyrone will have no scar tissue from 2017 Dublin defeat insists Tony Donnelly

Tony Donnelly was Mickey Harte's right hand man until 2014, and believes his friend can mastermind a Tyrone win against all odds on Sunday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Neil Loughran

MICKEY Harte will ensure Tyrone won’t carry any scar tissue into their All-Ireland final date with Dublin this weekend, insists former Red Hand number two Tony Donnelly.

Jim Gavin’s men had 12 points to spare when the counties met in last year’s semi-final, and begin Sunday’s decider as 1/7 favourites – the shortest odds for an All-Ireland final in many a year.

Yet Donnelly, who was Harte’s right hand man through most of the Noughties glory days, says the Tyrone boss will have wiped the slate clean since that devastating defeat 12 months ago.

And the Augher man pointed to the Red Hands’ strong finish to last month’s Super 8 clash as proof that the class of 2018 is a different animal a year down the line.

“That showed the Tyrone boys they could deal with the pressure,” said Donnelly.

“If they had thoughts like ‘what would another tanking do to us?’ it could have demoralised them. They manned up to that, said that wasn’t going to happen, and obviously there’s been a lot of psychological work done that we’re not scarred by what happened last year.

“People talk about the scar tissue Greg Norman has from his Masters collapse [in 1996], but Mickey will make sure there’s no scar tissue, no remnants in the system.

“This is a new game, we’re a better team than we were last year and we’re going to give a better account of ourselves and see where that takes us.

“We’re 11/2 now, which is wild odds considering Tyrone have two Ulster titles in three years. I suppose they’re looking at this animal called Dublin, that no-one can take them down.

“But I do believe that if anybody can, it’s Tyrone.”

Donnelly wasn’t an official part of the backroom team when Tyrone landed their first All-Ireland title 15 years ago, but was Harte’s ‘eye in the sky’ that summer, providing him with crucial information from his vantage point in the stand.

It is 10 years since the Red Hands last reached an All-Ireland final, and Donnelly sees some similarities with the lead-in to that 2003 showdown against reigning champions Armagh.

“I was actually saying to Mickey that it’s very like the build-up to 2003,” he added.

“People talk about 10 years, considering we had to wait 100 years before - we sound as if we’re Kerry or something. Ten years like!

“There’s a degree of excitement that wasn’t there a few years ago. Tyrone didn’t fall off the edge of the earth, they have still maintained a very high standard.”

And regardless of the result on Sunday, Donnelly has backed Harte to carry on in the Red Hand hot seat.

“Mickey’s appetite for the game and enthusiasm for it isn’t dictated by silverware. Mickey never sees not winning as failure – it’s having done your best, what can we learn from it and we’ll go again.

“I can’t visualise Mickey walking away from it in the foreseeable future, and nor would I want to. When you have someone who has amassed that experience and is back in an All-Ireland final having first been there 15 years ago, it’s just an amazing record. Why change?”

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