Richie Donnelly backing Tyrone to steer clear of relegation threat

Former Red Hand player believes they can bounce back from Galway defeat

Galway's Johnny McGrath (2) and Johnny Heaney pressurise Tyrone's Darragh Canavan.
Galway's Johnny McGrath (2) and Johnny Heaney pressurise Tyrone's Darragh Canavan during Sunday's Allianz Football League Division One match at Healy Park

Richie Donnelly is backing Tyrone to rise from the lower reaches of the Allianz League Division One table and ward off the threat of relegation.

Defeat to Galway at the weekend leaves them with just two points from three games, and very much in the drop zone approaching the halfway stage.

It’s a familiar scenario for the Red Hands, who have struggled in the early stages of the past two seasons, before recovering strongly to preserve top flight status.

Donnelly is one of a significant group of players currently absent from the ranks, having stepped away from the squad prior to the beginning of the season.

“The way the league sits now, we could look at it with doom and gloom, but it’s not territory that the team is unfamiliar with,” he said.

“These boys have been in corners before in the second half of the league, and they have come out swinging and done the job, so I’d still back them to get out of the difficult spot they’re in.”

“Division One is very competitive, it was a one point game. There’s not much in it at all. Yes, it’s a defeat, but it’s not doom and gloom yet.”

Tyrone are facing into a difficult run of games, with Kerry and Dublin still to play following this weekend’s clash with Mayo, a tie that the Trillick man believes they are capable of winning.

“Mayo are always very competitive, especially in the league. They’re right up there and they’re always in the top half.

“They’re very consistent in the Division One league in the last number of years, and that’s a big task next Saturday night.

“But it’s definitely a game that Tyrone will look forward to and they’ll really target it for two points.”

Tyrone's Richie Donnelly in action against Antrim's James McAuley in this year's Ulster Championship. McAuley is confident the Saffrons can start climbing the Leagues Picture: Seamus Loughran
Richie Donnelly is one of a number of experienced players to have stepped away from the Tyrone squad in recent years

An injury crisis has forced the Red Hands, without several established stars, to throw a clutch of inexperienced players in at the deep end.

Kieran McGeary returned for his first appearance of the season last Sunday, coming off the bench against Galway, but others, including Conor Meyler, Frank Burns, Michael O’Neill, Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly, are still some way off.

“I think long-term it will be a huge plus for Tyrone if we can secure Division One status and finish the league on a positive with good performances,” said Donnelly.

“The young boys have acquitted themselves awfully well and it’s something that will be a huge plus coming into the championship, and then pulling back in the experienced lads, to get those boys back at the right time in the next few weeks.

“We saw Kieran McGeary returning to the fray, like that’s all positive, so I think if we can get those boys back in and stabilise the thing, and the young boys, with that experience back, that will stand to that group going forward.”

Donnelly is one of three players who have departed the squad, but unlike the retired Ronan McNamee and Niall Sludden, he has left the door open to a possible return.

“I have no outcome on it. I made a decision based on very much the short term. I needed to step back and get a breather and kind of look after myself for the next while.

“That’s my priority now, to look after my business and get the body right again for another big season with the club.

“I’ll just review the thing at the end of the year again and see where I’m at in terms of performances and fitness.

“It took me a long time to think about my decision, I didn’t want to rush into anything either, but I’m happy with the decision as it sits.”