Tyrone leagues get underway as Trillick captain Donnelly vows they’ll do all they can to retain their titles

St Macartan’s completed a double in the O’Neill county last year

Trillick's Richie Donnelly

Picture: Oliver McVeigh
Former Tyrone player Richie Donnelly has been named Trillick captain for this season Picture: Oliver McVeigh

There’s more to Tyrone club football than championship, and Trillick are on a mission to showcase the importance of league action in the Red Hand county.

The Tyrone Championship is renowned as the most competitive in the country, but it’s the battle for league points that primes the teams for straight knock-out drama in the chase for the O’Neill Cup.

Last season Trillick won their ninth championship title, but far from spending the rest of the year celebrating, they knuckled down for the league play-offs and completed a memorable double.

Richie Donnelly takes over from Rory Brennan as team captain, and he has made it clear that the league, which gets under way this weekend, will once again be a priority.

“The league is very important in Trillick, firstly from a competitive point of view, we want to go out every weekend and win league games, we want to be consistent,” he said.

“It’s something we didn’t have in Trillick for a number of years, it’s something we worked really hard on, to be consistent every weekend we go out. Thankfully we’ve managed to do that in recent years.”

And it’s the week by week action in the league that builds those levels of consistency that send teams into championship action in the best possible place to succeed.

“It definitely is. Being consistent in the league is a strong reflection of the standards driving us in the set-up. If you’re going into games, Jekyll and Hyde performances, it’s reflective of something not right.

“I think showing a level of consistency is very important to us because it gives you a good barometer of where the group’s at so it’ll be interesting to see how we go.”

A third successive league title is one target for Trillick in the season ahead, with the main objective being championship success.

But in the weeks ahead, it’s all about channelling all the energies of the players into Division One action, with difficult fixtures coming thick and fast on a weekly basis, starting with a mouth-watering clash with Errigal Ciaran, a repeat of last year’s championship final.

“We’d absolutely love to do that (retain league title) and we’ll fight tooth and nail to do it. When you break that outcome down, what it means is being competitive every Sunday and fighting for two points, and that’s what we plan to do.”

Trillick are aiming to complete a League and Championship double in Tyrone.
Trillick completed a League and Championship double in Tyrone last year

It’s an exciting time for the St Macartan’s club, with one of the most talented squads in the county.

The won the league and championship last year without injured star Mattie Donnelly, whose return for the season ahead is a massive boost, making them an even more formidable opponent for opposing teams.

And the progress made by a number of younger players has been recognised, with Seanie O’Donnell, Ciaran Daly and Liam Gray all playing for Tyrone in the Ulster Championship.

With seasoned stars such as Rory and Lee Brennan also in the mix, the future looks bright for the reigning champions, with younger prospects coming through the under-age ranks.

“On the surface there’s a lot of good ability there, Charlie Donnelly and Nathan Farry featured very strongly for Omagh CBS that did back-to-backs and you’ve a few hidden gems there as well,” said Donnelly.

“Club minors like James Corry and Liam Corry and Sean Corry and boys like that, a lot of good young characters we’d be very hopeful we’ll pull through in the next year or two and play at a very high level for Trillick and beyond.”

But success is hard-earned in Tyrone, and the county’s championship is arguably the most competitive in Ireland.

It’s almost 20 years since any club has managed to retain the O’Neill Cup, Carrickmore having won back to back titles in 2005, so the task for the current champions is clearly a massive one.

“I’d say every team in the senior championship faces the same challenge.

“There’s a number of teams that can win it and you could literally be out on the first day or you could progress, it’s a lottery and we saw that in the first round last year, we went to penalties with Loughmacrory.

“We just know what it brings and we’ll prepare as best we can.”