GAA Football

Tyrone stars supportive in squad roles, insists Mattie Donnelly

Mattie Donnelly and his Tyrone colleagues celebrate after beating Donegal at Brewster Park.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Francis Mooney

Mattie Donnelly has insisted there's no unrest on a Tyrone bench laden with superstars.

With big names like Cathal McShane, Conor McKenna and Tiarnan McCann not making the starting fifteen, depth is stronger than it has been for years.

Top players want to play, and game-time is the fuel that fires their desire to achieve.

But the Red Hands are all in this together, according to Donnelly, who hailed the reaction of the trio, and others, to the news that they would not be starting last weekend's Ulster semi-final against Donegal.

"They were keen, they were supportive of everyone that got the chance and were lucky enough to get in the fifteen," he said.

McCann joined the action at half-time, McKenna came in on 46 minutes, and more than an hour had elapsed at Brewster Park by the time All-Star full forward McShane was thrown into the fray.

All three made a big impact, scoring five points between them as Tyrone saw off their north-west neighbours to qualify for a first provincial final since 2017.

"Some boys were probably hurt that they weren't starting, but at the same time, the way they approached the game was the way that you wanted them to.

"And they were very keen and eager to make an impression when they came on, and that's what they did. They made a massive impact.

"That's what you need in this day and age, especially in that weather, especially in a fast-paced game, you need an impact, you need a strong squad, and I thought we played with a lot of purpose in the second half, which was needed."

The Trillick clubman is certain Monaghan will be driven by the memory of U20 captain Brendan Og Duffy when they face Tyrone in the Ulster final on Saturday week, just as they were in their semi-final comeback win over Armagh.

"That emotion, that higher purpose, can make you play above yourself, and we saw that.

"Armagh, in fairness to them, played an unbelievable game, played their part in an unbelievable game.

"But you just felt that Monaghan weren't going to be denied, you felt that that higher purpose got them over the line.

"When you have that, and when you have the seasoned and the experience that Monaghan have, with the wee boost of youth and quality that they have, then that's a very, very formidable force, and that's going to be an unbelievably hard match that lies ahead."

Donnelly suggested that another Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal would have been unthinkable, and damaging to Tyrone football.

"If we had lost that game it would have been a big setback for this county in general," he claimed.

"Tyrone needed that win, because Donegal have shaded the rivalry this past few years and we definitely needed to get one up on them.

"You know, that rivalry will be a healthy rivalry for many years to come."

But he warned that the Red Hands cannot afford to relent in their quest until silverware is secured.

"When you look at it from a local perspective, it was big from the point of view of the Tyrone-Donegal rivalry, but in the grand scheme of things, there's nothing won yet either.

"So that's what we view our year on, we don't view it on winning derby games, we view it on our success, and success for different teams means different things."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football