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Mattie Donnelly so happy to be in bonus playing time

By John Campbell

Published 12/11/2015

Testing time: Lee Keegan of Mayo, International Rules manager Joe Kernan and Monaghan captain Conor McManus who are gearing up to take on Australia in the International Rules Series
Testing time: Lee Keegan of Mayo, International Rules manager Joe Kernan and Monaghan captain Conor McManus who are gearing up to take on Australia in the International Rules Series
Mattie Donnelly

When Tyrone made an inglorious exit from the Ulster Senior Football Championship at the hands of Donegal in Ballybofey way back in mid-May, midfield ace Mattie Donnelly could not have dreamt that he would still be playing top-flight football in the depths of November.

Now, in the space of a week, the ebullient Donnelly finds his services required on two fronts as he prepares to assist his club Trillick in Sunday's Ulster Club Championship semi-final against Monaghan champions Scotstown before turning his attention to Ireland's mission against Australia in the International Rules Test on Saturday week.

It's a hectic climax to 2015 for Donnelly who collected a coveted All-Star award last week-end, but the indefatigable dynamo is clearly revelling in his high-octane schedule.

"Obviously, I was disappointed that Tyrone did not do better in the Ulster Championship but we reached the All-Ireland semi-finals which provided some consolation for us," said Donnelly.

"Now to be still involved in the Ulster Club series and to be chosen in the Ireland match-day squad to face the Aussies is bonus territory for me."

He will be joined by his Tyrone colleagues Niall Morgan and Peter Harte in a 23-man Ireland squad that also includes Monaghan duo Darren Hughes and Conor McManus as well as Donegal forward Paddy McBrearty.

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Not surprisingly, All-Ireland champions Dublin provide five players in the Ireland squad - Diarmuid Connolly, Jack McCaffrey, Philip McMahon, Rory O'Carroll and team captain Bernard Brogan.

Manager Joe Kernan believes that his squad is capable of matching the Australians in terms of pace and skill and will place his faith in an all-out attacking strategy.

"Unfortunately, injuries and club commitments have ruled some players out, but I am happy that we have still managed to assemble a very strong squad and, indeed, it was a difficult job to whittle the numbers down to the actual final squad and the standby list," states Kernan.

"Both the players and the management are really looking forward to this Test. The fact that the Australians are sending over such a strong team means we will have to up our game if we are to take those boys on and that's exactly what we are planning to do."

Kernan has been impressed with the attitude of his players in training and believes that the Ulster contingent can come to the fore.

"All players are in there on merit. There is a decent representation from Ulster when it is factored in that people like Sean Cavanagh and Michael Murphy are not available," adds Kernan.

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Donnelly, Monaghan skipper McManus won an All-Star award and is keen to bring his scoring prowess into play against the Aussies.

He was Ireland's outstanding player in the corresponding Test last year which Australia won by 56-46 but there is now a palpable desire within Kernan's squad to see the Cormac McAnallen Trophy recaptured.

Four additional Ulster representatives are included in an eight-strong list of stand-by players - Cavan duo Killian Clarke and Gearoid McKiernan and Monaghan pair Dessie Mone and Kieran Hughes.

GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail has already made a strong plea to supporters to get behind the home team. "The honour of representing Ireland is a rare one for a gaelic footballer and I have no doubt that those selected will relish the prospect, pitting themselves against the best of the AFL," said Ó Fearghail.

Ireland squad: Niall Morgan (Tyrone), Colm Begley (Laois), Gary Brennan (Clare), Bernard Brogan (Dublin, capt), Eoin Cadogan (Cork), Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone), Eoin Doyle (Kildare), Peter Harte (Tyrone), Darren Hughes, (Monaghan), Lee Keegan (Mayo), Paul Kerrigan (Cork), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin), Ciarán McDonald (Tipperary), Philip McMahon (Dublin), Conor McManus (Monaghan), Rory O'Carroll (Dublin), John O'Loughlin (Laois), Aidan O'Shea (Mayo), Michael Quinn (Longford), Donnchadh Walsh (Kerry), Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin), Paul Cribbin (Kildare), Paddy Mc Brearty (Donegal)

Stand-by Players: Paddy O'Rourke (Meath), Killian Clarke (Cavan), Ray Connellan (Westmeath), Kieran Hughes (Monaghan), Gearoid McKiernan (Cavan), Dessie Mone (Monaghan), Colm O'Neill (Cork), Enda Smith (Roscommon).

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