GAA Football

Corinthian man Mattie Donnelly feels more medals in Tyrone

Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly breaks clear of Mayo's Padraig O'Hora during Saturday's All-Ireland final Picture: Philip Walsh
From Brendan Crossan at Croke Park

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final: Tyrone 2-14 Mayo 0-14

SUNNY Ardboe in April. Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin is sitting at his kitchen table reflecting on the Tyrone years and the out-stretched Red Hands that couldn’t quite touch All-Ireland silver.

Unprompted, he wants to talk about Mattie Donnelly. He talks talent, commitment, resilience, loyalty, selflessness and sadness.

“You’re happy to step away and let somebody else have a crack at it and hopefully that gives them the extra ingredient that’s needed,” said the former Tyrone assistant manager.

“That’s the type of things that haunt you a wee bit in that you let them down in some way. I know the likes of Mattie wouldn’t say that but you do feel it in your own gut.

“That’s what you dreamt about – Mattie walking up the steps and lifting Sam. I know what it’s like when Peter [Canavan] and Brian [Dooher] walked up those steps. I know because I was there.

“Mattie Donnelly worked every bit as hard as those two men worked, and he’s every bit as talented. But that’s life. Mattie was just a leader among men on and off the pitch.

“He sacrificed his game. He did that so regularly for us, that’s the calibre of the man. I’d be so, so disappointed if he ended his career [without an All-Ireland]…. But, look, as a human being and a footballer he shouldn’t be defined by whether he wins an All-Ireland or not.

“We’ll be forever indebted to Mattie Donnelly because there were difficult moments when Mickey was ill and we needed leaders around us and he was certainly one of them.”

A couple of hours have passed since Tyrone claimed their fourth All-Ireland title in Croke Park.

Outside Tyrone’s changing room on the bottom floor of the Hogan stand, endless cardboard boxes are carted inside, clinking as they go. The music thumps and the party is well under way.

Each time the changing room door swings open you get a sense of the madness that’s taking place inside.

Even-tempered as they come, Mattie Donnelly takes three steps out of the changing room door before being stopped in his tracks by a posse of reporters.

He gave a respectful nod to the previous management team led by Mickey Harte and ‘Horse’ Devlin before paying tribute to the “jolt of energy” of joint bosses Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher whose intentions were always “good and pure”.

“Feargal has been there in ‘95, and a lot of that team was there in 2018. If we weren’t going to do it today, when were we going to do it?

“We have all won All-Irelands at minor, U21s, but you are remembered for the senior ones really.”

The 2013 All-Ireland minor winner imagined a million times what it would feel like at the final whistle and becoming a senior All-Ireland medallist.

“I think the moments on the pitch after it were the ones that just caught you by surprise,” said the Trillick man, “when you see your brother, your club-mates, the boys that you have been in the doldrums for 10, 12 years now.

“Even Petey Harte, I've been on the go with that man since he was 15 or 16 and just to share the day and validate all the work we have done. It was just emotional and it just makes it all worthwhile.

“Since we laced the boots up that’s what I said to the boys. This isn’t a thing since last October, it’s since we all laced our boots up. It’s all come together and it’s cultivated in this.”

Dublin and Kerry will undoubtedly come back stronger in 2022 – but Donnelly feels Tyrone will do too.

“The scary thing is, that team probably isn’t operating at optimum levels yet,” he said.

“We haven’t reached our ceiling, so we have to look at that, and that makes the future exciting as well. We have our medal, and we have a lot to improve on, a lot more room for improvement. Perhaps this medal will help us tap into that.”

In the midst of Saturday evening's famous victory, Donnelly consoled any Mayo footballer that was in his eye-line.

In true Corinthian spirit, from a Corinthian man.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football