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Donnelly hopes Carrickmore can draw on lessons from 2021 encounter when they face Coalisland in Tyrone SFC opener

Coalisland's Padraig Hampsey in action against Carrickmore's Rory Donnelly in last year's Tyrone SFC quarter-final. Carmen captain Donnelly believes there was little between the teams last year and that will be the case again when they face each other in the first round of this year's championship Picture: Seamus Loughran
Coalisland's Padraig Hampsey in action against Carrickmore's Rory Donnelly in last year's Tyrone SFC quarter-final. Carmen captain Donnelly believes there was little between the teams last year and that will be the case again when they face each other in Coalisland's Padraig Hampsey in action against Carrickmore's Rory Donnelly in last year's Tyrone SFC quarter-final. Carmen captain Donnelly believes there was little between the teams last year and that will be the case again when they face each other in the first round of this year's championship Picture: Seamus Loughran

CARRICKMORE captain Rory Donnelly says lessons must be learned from last season’s quarter-final defeat to Coalisland as the teams prepare to meet in the Tyrone SFC for the second year running.

The Fianna won that tight encounter by a single point and went all the way to the Tyrone SFC final.

Just the kick of a ball separated the sides on that occasion, and 20-year-old Donnelly feels Monday’s first round tie could once again be decided by small margins.

“Last year it was 50-50, and maybe their cool heads at the end brought them through,” he said.

“This year, it’s still 50-50, but we hope that we can have learned from what we did last year, and perform on the day, and that’s what it will come down to.”

Carmen went on to win the 2021 league title, building levels of consistency and experience that have edged them closer to being championship contenders.

“Championship is always the goal every year, but I suppose when you have won the league, the natural progression is to push on and go for the championship.

“But we’re in the same boat as the other 15 teams, and nothing will come easy.”

Another strong showing in the league, with a top four finish and an extended run to through the play-offs sends Carrickmore into their O’Neill Cup opener with a level of momentum that their opponents have been unable to gather.

“It’s been a good run, but championship is always in the back of your head.

“There’s no better way to get ready for what’s in store against Coalisland.”

The squad is approaching full strength, with the imminent return of Jonny Munroe from injury and the end of a summer spent in the USA by Cormc Munroe, James Donaghy and Oran McKee.

“The special thing about this team is that it’s just not the fifteen that’s starting. It’s a panel of 30 or even more, especially with those boys coming back from America,” said Donnelly, now in his second season as team captain, having been handed the role while still a teenager.

“There’s huge competition, and that can only help us in the long run, and it will push everyone on.

“Hopefully come the big day, we’ll have the 24 men to lean on, and not just the 15 that starts.”

Carrickmore are the most successful club in the history of the Tyrone Championship, and the last to win back-to-back titles, but they have not tasted O’Neill Cup glory since that 2005 success.

Eight other clubs have, in the meantime, been crowned champions, and this year’s series looks set to be another fiercely competitive and notoriously unpredictable race.

“It’s easier said than done. You could pick out of a hat who’s going to win the championship this year, but we’ll just try our best, and I don’t think we can do much more than that.”

Donnelly was only three years old when Carrickmore last won the campionship, and now lines out alongside a couple of survivors from that successful side in Conor Gormley and Mark Donnelly.

“I don’t remember it. I’ve seen the videos and stuff. I suppose that’s who you’re looking up to in the club.

“It’s a long time coming to get another one, so hopefully we can do the business in the near future.”