Donnelly rides to the rescue as Tyrone finally catch fire against Rebels
Tyrone 2-15 Cork 2-12
For all the nuances and systems in modern-day football, it was one of the oldest tricks in the book that reignited Tyrone on Saturday night.
Five points down at half-time in a game where defeat meant they'd likely have to beat Dublin to keep their season alive, Tyrone's backs were to the wall.
Mickey Harte sent for the cavalry. He introduced three half-time subs but for all the surgery he performed on his team, it was the posting of a big man to the edge of the square that did it for them. Mattie Donnelly was sent to the full-forward line and he, more than anyone, wrestled the game in Tyrone's favour.
A half-time deficit of five points was wiped out in four minutes as Tyrone hit Cork for a quick 2-1 to recover their grip on the game. Donnelly was central to the effort. He kicked three second-half points, had a hand in both goals and was fouled for three more pointed frees.
Donnelly has been posted to the edge of the square already this year for Tyrone and afterwards, Mickey Harte agreed the Trillick man is central to his plans.
"It's a think-on-your-feet job," Harte replied when asked about Donnelly's deployment. "We would like to play him everywhere. The same with Petey Harte - we would play him in ten different places but you have to decide on any one day where the best place is to play him."
Tyrone dug themselves out of a hole and secured their spot in a third successive All-Ireland semi-final, but only after Cork had made most of the running.
They goaled after just 13 seconds when Luke Connolly palmed home after Cork cut through the Tyrone defence. It was a goal that suggested McCarthy's side were learning at a rate of knots, having blown a similar chance against Dublin just a week ago.
On 19 minutes, James Loughrey finished brilliantly to the net, and when Connolly followed up with a free, Cork led by seven points.
Just after the break they were six up but Tyrone wiped that out in four minutes. A Cathal McShane free pulled one back for Tyrone before they grabbed the first of two quick-fire goals.
First Donnelly fed Michael McKernan, who squared for McShane to palm to the net. Peter Harte followed that up with a pointed free (after Donnelly was fouled) before Niall Sludden was pulled down in the area.
Harte made no mistake from the penalty spot and suddenly Cork were two down.
To their credit, they kept trying. Michael Hurley kicked four points from the bench but down the home stretch, Tyrone were dominant.
"Our regret would be, I thought we managed the game very well in the first-half, textbook really, we were very patient," Cork boss Ronan McCarthy said afterwards.
"It wasn't pretty on the eye but that is not our fault. The last thing you want is to take the ball into contact. We were patient, we probed, we waited for our opportunities. I thought we did that really well. As the first-half wore, we were caught, two or three times, taking the ball into contact. And then we started the second-half quite well, [but] then when they had their period of dominance, we conceded too much."
Cork have one more Super 8s encounter to come and McCarthy insists they will be going all out to win it.
"A key thing for this group and Cork football is that we now have a group who are 100pc committed to football. They are not interested in anything else. It is their sole focus.
"You win together and you lose together, but they'll stick together, and I think that is the key thing. In relation to the Roscommon game, we are at a point where we can't turn our nose up at any game.
"We'll prepare for this properly, the same way we have for other games. I've spoken to the players already about our training plan for the coming weeks. We'll be coming into that game looking to win it and keep the bit of momentum going.
"The one positive is we'll have six championship games played this year, which is two seasons in one. We've had a lot of learning, but it is hard learning."
For Harte, the most pleasing aspect was that his side found their way out of a bad situation. "We are five weeks on the road now and maybe people are a wee bit fatigued at this stage, that could be part of the reason," said a philosophical Tyrone manager.
"Other times you just don't have an explanation for these things, you never anticipate that you are going to concede a goal so early number one, and secondly to concede another goal midway through the half.
"That's never in the script when you go out to play anybody, so it is a shock to the system when it happens, but the good thing is these players were able to deal with it and bounce back with something very positive."
SCORERS - Tyrone: P Harte (1-0 pen, 3f); C McShane (4f) 1-5 each; M Donnelly 0-3; C Meyler, T McCann 0-1 each. Cork: L Connolly 1-3 (2f); M Hurley 0-4; J Loughrey 1-0; M Collins 0-2; J O'Rourke, S White, M Taylor 0-1 each.
Tyrone - N Morgan 7; HP McGeary 6, R NcNamee 8, R Brennan 6; M McKernan 6, K McGeary 7, F Burns 6; C Cavanagh 8, B Kennedy 7; M Donnelly 9, N Sludden 6, P Harte 8; D McCurry 6, C McShane 8, C Meyler 7. Subs: P Hampsey 7 for Kennedy, R Donnelly 7 for McCurry, M Cassidy 7 for HP McGeary (all HT), T McCann 7 for M McKernan (52), C McAliskey 6 for Sludden (56),
Cork - M White 7; S Cronin 7, Thomas Clancy 7, K Flahive 6; L O'Donovan 7, Tomas Clancy 6, M Taylor 7; I Maguire 8, K O'Hanlon 7; K O'Driscoll 7, S White 7, R Deane 7; M Collins 7, B Hurley 6, L Connolly 8. Subs: J Loughrey 7 for Tomas Clancy (12), P Kerrigan 6 for Hurley (49), M Hurley 8 for Collins (52), S Powter 6 for S White, J O'Rourke 6 for O'Driscoll (both 59), S Sherlock for Cronin (67).
REF - M Deegan (Laois).