GAA Football

Tyrone needn't panic - but Red Hands must beat Kildare: Mark Donnelly

Tyrone seem set to be without Padraig Hampsey, Kieran McGeary, Michael McKernan, and Peter Harte against Kildare on Sunday after their late red cards against Armagh.
Pic Philip Walsh
Francis Mooney

FORMER Tyrone attacker Mark Donnelly says there's no cause for concern over a sluggish start to the season by the All-Ireland champions.

But Sunday's NFL Division One clash with Kildare is a crucial tie and a must-win encounter for a side in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle.

The Red Hands have failed to win any of their four competitive games this year, but Donnelly expects things to change sooner rather than later.

"I wouldn't be panicking yet. We're only into February, so it's very early days," he said.

"And I don't think the Tyrone management will be getting too worried.

"But it's important to get the two points, even just to build momentum and get the confidence back up after the defeat to Armagh, and after a sluggish enough McKenna Cup."

Full back Ronan McNamee has not played since last year's All-Ireland final, while attacker Conor McKenna has made just one brief substitute appearance, with others working towards full fitness.

"The management will be glad to get the full quota back training again, with boys coming back late, and when they do that they will be able to get the right sort of work done and get the fitness up to where it should be."

However, the red card drama that marred the closing stages of the clash with Armagh leaves Tyrone short of key men for Sunday's meeting with the Lilywhites.

The depth of the panel will be tested, but Donnelly feels the squad is strong enough to cope with the setback.

"I think Tyrone will use the strength in depth in the panel, take advantage of Healy Park and get the two points.

"It's a four-pointer, with Kildare and Tyrone both on one point and both in the same situation.

"It's in Healy Park, so hopefully it will be to our advantage."

Armagh's victory at the Athletic Grounds presented further evidence of an Orchard revival and the re-ignition of a once fierce rivalry with their neighbours from across the River Blackwater.

"The atmosphere at the game was intense, with the massive crowd, and Armagh looked the part. They look like they have something going there and they will be a force to be reckoned with.

"It looks like an Ulster Championship to look forward to, with Armagh and Derry coming strong, and you have Monaghan there too, and Donegal as well.

"It will be very difficult for Tyrone to win back to back titles."

Donnelly retired from inter-county football in 2015, but at the age of 38, he's preparing for another club season with Carrickmore, along with former Tyrone team-mates and All-Ireland winners Conor Gormley and Martin Penrose.

"None of the lads have officially retired, so I'd say we'll all be out this year," he said.

"We haven't closed the door on it yet. At the end of every season, you consider your future.

"Personally, I had said that last year was my final year, but unfortunately I missed the Championship due to Covid.

"And to finish the League with a Division One title was a nice way to finish the season.

"We have a good young side coming up there, and it's hard to walk away when you have that enthusiasm coming through, and obviously winning that league title was a nice boost for the club.

"So it's a nice time to be part of the senior set-up."

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GAA Football