Donnelly eager for a return to action after hand injury
Eoin Donnelly has more reason than most Gaelic footballers to relish the Christmas training period.
Not for him, putting the feet up and devouring turkey sandwiches, but a return to action after a period of rest on a long-standing hand injury and subsequent operation is up yesterday, Christmas Day.
Fermanagh's captain had an especially short season as his club, Coa O'Dwyers, were not in the running for the domestic Intermediate Championship, and so the 27-year-old decided it was the perfect time to clean up a ruptured tendon in his thumb with an operation on October 1.
Donnelly, a physio in the Dundonald Hospital, is hungry to get back to working on the human anatomy after a period of admin work that he freely admits to "doing my head in."
The same appetite applies to getting back to football. A fortnight ago, Fermanagh played Leitrim and Monaghan in challenge matches and are in a McKenna Cup group with Queen's, Derry and Donegal, now managed by former Fermanagh attacker Rory Gallagher of course.
"I have had a good, long break away from football," commented Donnelly. "I know there are calls for the county season to be cut shorter and condensed and that would mean the end of pre-season competitions. That might be the way it ends up.
"But because teams are starting to train so early, you are nearly mad to get a few games coming up. I think that's why teams are looking forward to the McKenna Cup coming up. Players just want to get away from the training pitch and play a match on a Sunday."
At present, there are 13 members of the Erne county panel in Belfast and they do their conditioning work under the guidance of Paul Murphy, a Sports Science coach who worked with the London county side when they reached the 2013 Connacht final and is now with his native county, operating out of a base on the Ormeau Road.
Donnelly reveals: "For us boys in Belfast, we have had most contact with him because he is the one taking us midweek. You can see that he has stuff to offer there, that he is only scratching the surface of what he has to offer and stuff that he wants to do. He is working under Leon (Carters, team trainer) for some of that stuff and he is holding back at times."
With all that, Donnelly believes the work being put in at present gives sufficient grounds for much optimism, explaining: "From my point of view, working with the boys in Belfast, they are finding the time to put in a lot of training and they are putting in a lot of effort.
"I am looking forward to seeing some of the younger boys like James Allen, Cian McManus, Conall Jones and all these boys."
While he is ready for action, he also notes the unpredictable nature of January football.
"The McKenna Cup is hard to say because every team is going to try and blood new players," Donnelly says.
"You don't know what you are going to come up against.
"The McKenna Cup, it's more about getting boys used to competitive action so that's a good thing that you are facing strong teams."
After making the point that preparations are vastly more advanced than last season after the late appointment of Pete McGrath as manager, Donnelly says that an end-of-season review was necessary. However, management and players were already aware of their shortcomings in 2014 having been dumped out of the Championship by two straight defeats to Antrim and Laois.
"That was discussed, Pete spoke about it, but I think everybody themselves knew what they were disappointed about last year, losing in the first round of the Championship to Antrim," he said.