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Donnelly's thrilled to keep playing by the rulebook

By Declan Bogue

Published 04/12/2015

On the ball: Mattie Donnelly believes the Inter-Pros need more promotion
On the ball: Mattie Donnelly believes the Inter-Pros need more promotion

With Ulster saying 'no' to a number of experimental rule changes in this weekend's Inter-Provincial tournament - and getting the crucial backing of Leinster - one of the province's most prominent players has expressed his disbelief that the GAA were prepared to trial one rule in particular.

Mattie Donnelly found himself bemused by the concept of the 'solo free' where a player can tap the ball to himself and continue running in possession after he had been fouled, rather than having to take a free-kick as they normally would.

"It's the first I have heard of that toe-tap rule, to play on. For a sport that is trying to encourage more kicking, I find it peculiar. It would probably work out well for a team that are playing safe, they would use that option," the current Tyrone All-Star said.

The 24-year-old also makes the point that when you have the best Gaelic footballers from each province, it should be a chance to showcase what is best about the sport, rather than subjecting it to various experiments, such as the Aussie Rules-style 'mark'.

"The Railway Cup (Inter-Pros) is probably the time to be promoting Gaelic football. You want to see the best of Gaelic football from the best players in each province, so you wouldn't want to take away from that too much," Donnelly commented, before expressing his view that there is no major need to introduce the 'mark'.

"Teams still go out to try and catch the ball when it is kicked out long. I don't think there is much wrong with the game, I think it goes back full circle - the skills are being emphasised more.

"I think we can let it evolve naturally."

Donnelly played in last year's Inter-Provincial semi-final, referring to it in speech by its former title of the 'Railway Cup', but missed the final - in which Ulster fell to a heavy 2-19 to 1-7 defeat against Connacht - due to Sigerson commitments.

There is a distinct possibility that he could end up manning midfield with his second cousin Eoin Donnelly - the Fermanagh, and for this series, Ulster captain.

He admits that although his diary has been full in recent weeks with winning the Tyrone Championship and getting to the Ulster semi-final with Trillick, along with winning the Cormac McAnallen Cup with Ireland in the International Rules, an Ulster cap under manager Pete McGrath wasn't something he was prepared to miss out on.

"When Pete called me, Trillick were still going too, so I had my eye on that ball. But you don't want to disregard the Railway Cup that way. For the sake of another two weeks, the body was still good," he said.

"Obviously, I have things to clear up but I felt the mind was good and the body was fresh. I accepted straight away."

He also reveals the strong relationship that people within his club have with the Inter-Provincial tournament, which in its heyday attracted scores of thousands to the Croke Park final, but is now being kept on life-support by the GAA.

In Ulster, there is an appetite for it, with the northern province leading the way with 31 triumphs, three ahead of nearest challengers Leinster.

"In Trillick especially, there is great pride in it because past players like Pat King, the Donnellys, even my great-uncle, Paddy Donnelly, might have represented Ulster as well," he continued.

"I don't think the Railway Cup gets as much coverage as it probably deserves to. My father didn't even know that we were playing this week. Promotion-wise, that could be looked at."

Perhaps it is held in more esteem around Trillick than in the corridors of power, given how it has been condensed into a two-day competition.

Should Ulster win their semi-final tomorrow night, they will have 18 hours to prepare for the final. One rule that will be trialled this weekend is that of an interchange, with up to nine substitutions being permitted. A sensible and necessary measure.

Such a workload is familiar to Donnelly, though.

"It would be a bit heavy, but I have played in three-day Sigerson too and I really enjoyed it, and also enjoyed playing two-day Sigersons. When your mind is ready for it, you have won a semi-final, you are looking forward to a final. It's more a mindset thing too, getting the mind ready for it," he added.

"The burnout issue is a big deal and it's been on the go for a while now. To be fair, at one stage I would have been a victim of it. But you get better educated on how to look after yourself, on rest and recovery, and the training and conditioning are so up-to-date that the tools are there to build up a tolerance, to live with the demands.

"I think if you do buy into that, it is possible. You know your body better than anyone, and if you look after it, it will look after you."

Belfast Telegraph

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