Friday 14 December 2018

Donnelly: Our players have proved they can be the best in the land

There was no way the Tyrone skipper Mattie Donnelly was going to settle for the role of spectator. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
There was no way the Tyrone skipper Mattie Donnelly was going to settle for the role of spectator. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

FOMO (Fear of missing out) is defined as "the anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere" and Mattie Donnelly had no intention of watching the 'Super 8s' unfold without Tyrone.

When Monaghan dumped them out of the Ulster SFC, they faced a rocky road back to the All-Ireland quarter-finals but defeats of Meath, Carlow, Cavan and Cork booked their place at the top table.

A cloud of pessimism has hung over the Red Hand since last year's humiliating All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin and suspension and injuries to key personnel could have crippled their progression, but Donnelly and Co dug their heels in.

All the talk has been of the real championship kicking off when the field was weeded down to the great eight and there was no way the Tyrone skipper (right) was going to settle for the role of spectator.

"It's history in the making, the first year of this concept and we were so eager not to be watching on with other teams playing in it. There's a buzz about it built up at this stage as well, thank God we're there and in the mix," Donnelly said.

"Nearly every man on that panel has proved themselves to be the best in Ireland at some grade, be it Sigerson, minor or U-21 football, we've done that before so we've a belief there definitely. It's just about who performs on the day now."

While their place wasn't achieved via the conventional route, Tyrone are exactly where they want to be and the two-time All-Star feels they have made "massive" progress along the way.

"You see operators like Collie (Cavanagh) and Petey (Harte) growing every week, Tiernan McCann as well, and you're able to probably get over each round without performing to your absolute optimum, but you're bringing back things you can work on each week and that's massive."

One of those to benefit from the qualifier run and get game time under his belt is the aforementioned Colm Cavanagh and, after 11 years with Tyrone, the new format excites him.

The All-Star midfielder would "rather be playing football week on week than training any day" and while he appreciates that their task is going to get much harder from here on in, he feels there is more improvement to come if their talent-laden squad can learn fast.

"We haven't hit the heights that we have probably hit in the last year or two. We do know that there are big performances in this team on any given day. We know too that there can be average performances on any given day," Cavanagh said.

"We have lads that weren't used today (Saturday) that are champing at the bit. The team is going to be very important going into this new system because there are going to be different lads used in each game. I believe that we are blessed with that."

An historic tie, with Dublin making the trip to Omagh, awaits in Round Two on July 21/22, but Cavanagh knows that could be all for nothing if they don't get the job done this weekend against Roscommon on Saturday.

"The first game is going to be a massive test and it's very important in this type of Champions League structure. If we get the first win then we're pushing for top place but if we lose the first game and the second then we're gone," he said.

"The new system is going to bring new ideas and new approaches, and a lot of unknowns.

"Dublin are coming to Omagh for the first time for a championship game, that's unbelievable. Everyone says you can only talk about the next game and in this format if we lose to Roscommon, the Dublin game might not have much importance."

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