GAA Football

Tyrone championship shows value of split season: Ben McDonnell

Ben McDonnell featured for Errigal Ciaran in their Tyrone quarter-final win over Dromore on Sunday. They now played Dungannon in the semi-final. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

HAD backers of a split club/county season needed any more ammunition to support their cause, the past weekend in Tyrone would have made a worthwhile case study for showcasing the best of the club game.

On Friday night, defending champions Trillick and Killyclogher sparkled before the TG4 cameras when they lit up Healy Park in a thriller that went all the way to penalties.

The other three quarter-finals were all hugely competitive affairs too, with Coalisland holding off a late Derrylaughan fightback to progress, a Paul Donaghy-inspired Dungannon edging Ardboe in extra-time and Eoin Kelly’s last-gasp winner sending Errigal Ciaran through to the last four.

It is no surprise RTE have decided to broadcast Saturday’s semi-final double-header – Trillick v Coalisland and Dungannon v Errigal - at a time when a split season looks to be edging ever closer, with the GAA’s fixtures taskforce meeting tonight to try and put some details on the proposition.

Errigal midfielder Ben McDonnell has been a key member of Mickey Harte’s Red Hand panel in recent years, but is no doubt that the competitiveness of club championships like Tyrone deserve their time in the spotlight, away from the inter-county season.

“I’d be a big fan of the split season,” he said in the aftermath of Sunday’s dramatic victory over Dromore.

“Tyrone’s a big club county, men are very passionate for their clubs. The Tyrone championship is like no other, there’s eight or nine teams who could win it. You see the amount of draws, even today could’ve gone to a draw. That’s how competitive it is.

“Even for county managers to be able to pick in-form players… it’s not about who they know can play well, it could be about who’s on form, which would be a good thing too.”

Yet, although they managed to get over the line, boss Johnny McBride was far from happy with Errigal’s performance as they chase a first county title since 2012.

Dromore were furious when, having taken a one-point lead in added time, Errigal were awarded a soft free to level the game up before Kelly’s decisive kick at the death.

McDonnell admits major improvement is required and insists that, having lost two of the last three county finals, they are determined to prove the naysayers wrong.

“We have to take it up another level.

“Even the performance against Trillick in last year’s final, they were totally deserved winners. The scoreline [0-12 to 2-4] didn’t even show that as much because we got a goal with the last kick of the game. We just didn’t show up at all, so we have to kick on this year.

“Today’s performance won’t be enough to win a championship so we have to take it up a level again. In fairness to the boys they never gave up. Dromore came there and they were seriously up for it, we knew we were in for a massive fight there.

“We’ll sit back and look at Dungannon this week. I know they’ve a couple of very good forwards there, young Donaghy kicked something ridiculous today [1-14 against Ardboe] and we’ve a point to prove here.

“A lot of people have been saying we’re a league team over the last couple of years, not producing the goods in championship, losing out in two finals – basically saying we don’t have that bit of steel to do it.

“We’re out this year with a point to prove.”

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