By Niall Gartland
AT last the grey skies of uncertainty have receded with the return to collective training and the gratefully received roll-out of league and championship fixtures, and Tyrone captain Mattie Donnelly is buzzing about the prospect of a return to action.
It emerged last week that the Red Hands would begin their Division One campaign at home to Donegal on Saturday May 15, and Tuesday evening’s eagerly awaited Ulster Championship draw threw up another Healy Park clash – a deliciously appetising quarter-final tie against reigning champions Cavan.
Speaking on Wednesday morning, and nursing a few natural aches from the previous evening’s training session in Garvaghey, Donnelly expressed his considerable relief that the long, long wait for football to return is nearly at an end.
“As I’m sitting here I have a few aches and pains and I couldn’t be happier about it, because it means I’m back out training and competing with lads who are performing at a high level. The overriding feeling is one of positivity. We’re back out doing what we missed so dearly, and I have to commend the GAA for what they’ve put in place.
“There’s a lot for club and county footballers to look forward to, so we’re excited and grateful to be back out training.”
It was only two years ago that Tyrone thumped Cavan by 1-20 to 0-7 in a round four qualifier, but Donnelly knows that they’ll be facing a very different animal in this year’s winner-takes-all championship clash.
“The context has completely changed,” states Donnelly. “They actually had a good year in 2019, but it was the first year of their journey with Mickey Graham, and they took things to another level last year and fulfilled the talent we always knew they had. A few of us fell victim to that Cavan team at U21 level.
“ They’re Ulster Champions for a reason, and they’ll be looking to vindicate that further.
“They’re on the crest of a wave, and have the players and subs and one of the best managers in Ireland dictating operations. Mix that in with the confidence they’ll now have and they’re right at the top of Ulster football.”
See this week’s edition of the Ulster Herald for our full interview with Mattie Donnelly