Future of Tyrone football... Red Hand youngsters hold their heads high after being thrown into deep end

Seanie O’Donnell making waves in county game alongside Canavan cousins and Lorcan McGarrity

Seanie O'Donnell was almost ever-present for Tyrone in Division One this year. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET McLAUGHLIN PICTURES / C)

TYRONE’S campaign in Division One was a rocky road on which a good result was followed by a bad one round the bend but the effort and application of the new faces in the team never wavered.

More than once, manager Brian Dooher – who was forced to throw more youngsters into the fray than he’d planned because of a succession of injuries – praised them for their wholehearted commitment and attitude.

The night before St Patrick’s Day, as the rain poured down in Omagh, a Tyrone side packed with rookies went toe-to-toe with Monaghan and scored the win that secured top flight for another year.

“We have lot of young boys there and you have to give them a lot of credit because they came in here and they are playing Division One football,” Dooher said afterwards.

“They put the shoulder to the wheel and the biggest thing about them is they give you an honest performance and this is one of the days we came out on the right side of it.”

Seanie O’Donnell was one of those “young boys” who are giving all they have for the famous jersey. If there was a GAA 7s tournament for families, O’Donnell’s clan would probably be worth a wager because the Trillick clubman, who was almost ever-present for Tyrone this year, certainly isn’t short on talented relations.

In the National League game against Galway, O’Donnell started alongside his cousins Lorcan McGarrity (Carrickmore) and Darragh Canavan (Errigal Ciaran) and another cousin, Ruairi Canavan (Darragh’s younger brother), was introduced late in the game.

“Aye, it’s a bit of craic – there’s lot of relations there,” says O’Donnell with a smile.

Darragh Canavan celebrates his brilliant goal against Monaghan at Healy Park. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Darragh Canavan celebrates his brilliant goal against Monaghan at Healy Park. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

HE comes from good stock but he has to make his own way in the footballing world and the All-Ireland U20 Championship-winner started by keeping his head above water in Division One. After marking his debut against Roscommon with a point, O’Donnell kept his place and started the next five games – adding four more scores including a brace against eventual League champions Derry – as Tyrone ensured mid-table respectability in the top flight.

Yes, senior football has been a step up for him but you can tell the student teacher at St Mary’s University College Belfast is loving every minute of it.

“I wouldn’t say tough,” he says.

“Well… It’s tough and it’s obviously demanding, you have to train hard but when you enjoy it that’s half the battle.

“The training and just the lifestyle that you have to live now, the demands… I definitely enjoy it and I don’t think I’d be doing it now if I didn’t enjoy it.”

Himself and cousins McGarrity and Ruairi Canavan have come together from that successful U20 team alongside a clutch of very promising ballers including Ciaran Daly, Niall Devlin and Conor Cush and Loughmacrory’s Aodhan Donaghy, Moortown’s Tarlach Quinn and Tiernan Quinn (Coalisland) who were brought into the panel this year.

“It’s good to get game time,” said O’Donnell.

“You’re getting great, competitive learning when you’re playing against some of the best teams. It’s class.”

Niall Morgan's distribution was superb as Tyrone saw off Monaghan in Omagh. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Niall Morgan's distribution was superb as Tyrone saw off Monaghan in Omagh. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

FOR inspiration and example he doesn’t have to stray outside the family circle. Cousin Darragh scored 2-26 (over a third of Tyrone’s total in the League) in six games in Division One including a match-winning 0-8 against Roscommon on O’Donnell’s debut.

“Aye, he’s playing well at the minute,” said Seanie.

“Some of the scores he gets and some of the things he does on the field… It’s a joy to watch and it’s credit to him and how hard he works in training and on his game.”

While Canavan was wreaking havoc at one end of the field, goalkeeper Niall Morgan was calmness personified at the other. The Edendork clubman, who narrowly missed out on going to American Football, had a superb League campaign in which he performed his bread-and-butter goalkeeping skills to a high standard and added breathtaking distribution and brilliant dead ball kicking as well.

His 70-yard pass to send Darragh Canavan away for a goal against Monaghan will live long in the memory of all who saw it and Morgan also added six points including one from play against Dublin at Croke Park.

“He’s very vocal,” said O’Donnell of his Allstar teammate.

“He’s kind of like an orchestrator in that regard. He’s obviously great to play with and you learn so much from him, looking at how he’s developed his game so much over the last few years - you’d hope to take a leaf out of his book.”

O’Donnell scored two points as Trillick dethroned Errigal Ciaran (including his Canavan cousins) in last year’s Tyrone senior championship final. He had blasted 1-1 in a devastating spell to see Trillick into the final, a feat that was all the more remarkable given the absence to club and county stalwart Mattie Donnelly who was welcomed back to Tyrone colours in the latter stages of the League.

O’Donnell enjoys plugging into the vast experience and knowhow Morgan and Donnelly bring to the dressingroom.

“Obviously there’s still so much to learn, especially from my point of view, and the same with any of the other young lads,” he says.

“It’s just how they (Donnelly/Morgan) play, how they talk, what they do on the field. Obviously they’ll do their best to show us the rights and wrongs and it’s down to us to follow that up and work as hard as we can to improve ourselves.”

He’ll learn plenty on Sunday when Tyrone travel to Kingspan Breffni to take on a Cavan side that showed their mettle when the came from behind to beat Monaghan in the Ulster Championship preliminary round.

They left it late but Ray Galligan’s side deserved their win and there was an energy, structure and quality about them that suggests they’ll give Tyrone their fill of it on Sunday. The Red Hands will travel to Cavan confident of victory but they will have to earn anything they get.

“Any Tyrone side expects to win and always comes in with the mentality of winning, and we’ll continue to do that, it always has been like that,” says O’Donnell.

“Anyone who has played so far this year has stepped up and done well. There’s healthy, competitive training there for boys with jerseys up for grabs.”