MATTHEW Donnelly will become only the fifth player to lead Tyrone into an All-Ireland Final when the Red Hands take on Dublin next Sunday fortnight at Croke Park.
The Trillick clubman, who was appointed captain following the retirement of Sean Cavanagh at the end of last year, has been a member of the squad since graduating from the All-Ireland winning minor team in 2008.
He will be marching behind the Artane Band in the same footsteps as Eugene McKenna of Augher in 1986, Ciaran Corr of Coalisland in 1995, Peter Canavan of Errigal Ciaran in 2003 and Brian Dooher of Clann Na nGael in 2005 and 2008.
But thoughts such as those are unlikely to feature too strongly in the mind of the 28 year-old as Tyrone’s preparations begin for the big match against Dublin. Excitement is building ahead of that, with Tyrone hoping to make it four All-Ireland final wins in a row after losing the initial two appearances in 1986 against Kerry and 1995 against Dublin.
Instead, the task of dethroning the four-in-a-row seeking Sam Maguire holders will take centre stage. Suffice to say that no effort will be spared, especially considering how Tyrone are entering the showdown as rank outsiders to clinch a fourth Sam Maguire Cup win.
The win over Monaghan ensured that the search for tickets is now on, and the players themselves will be hoping that the camaraderie which has characterised their season to date will once again come to the fore before 82,000 on September 2.
“It’s nearly like a family, like a brotherhood,” the St Macartan’s clubman remarked when asked about the key strength of this Tyrone squad.
“We have a serious belief in each other. Obviously, we have taken those knocks and it has helped us mature and get through some sticky patches.
“But it’s more so that there’s a great belief in each other and we have a great desire to be in each other’s company. I know it’s a cliche, but going into all the other All-Ireland semi-finals, we mightn’t have been completely aware or completely confident of what was on the other side.
“Going into this one, everybody knew the prize that was on the other side. We knew that we were worthy to be there and now we’re there.”
No wonder, then, that there were such celebrations on the pitch and in the dressing-rooms afterwards as the players contemplated a breakthrough of sorts.
Prior to the 1-13 to 0-15 win over Monaghan, Tyrone had gone four All-Ireland semi-finals without a win. The defeats to Cork in 2009, Mayo in 2013, Kerry in 2015 and Dublin in 2016 had the potential to be demoralising, until the current crop of players finally broke the hoodoo in dramatic fashion during the closing stages at Croke Park.
Now the prospect of meeting the Dubs for the second time in this year’s championship is demanding attention.
Most will view them as underdogs, although that won’t be a new role for Tyrone teams in All-Ireland Finals. It’s also the second decider between the counties, following on from the controversial 1995 tie which Dublin won by a point to clinch their first title in 12 years.
Of more immediate historical relevance is the All-Ireland semi-final clash between them last year. Tyrone had gone into that game expecting and being tipped to do well. However, an early goal opened the floodgates for a resounding Dublin win and they’ll be keen to avoid a similar fate when the counties renew acquaintances next month.
“The boys made a good account of themselves any time that they have to an All-Ireland Final,” added Mattie Donnelly.
“We’ll be going out to make sure that’s the same in three weeks.
“Losing to Dublin last year was the most disappointing result because we didn’t perform as well as we should have.
“But whenever you’re that close to a final and you come up short, you hurt just as much. Last year was no different, but we were extremely determined not to be in that position again this year.”
Posted: 8:54 am August 18, 2018
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