Tyrone assistant manager Tony Donnelly feels he knows the psyche of the side perhaps just as well as manager Mickey Harte.
And perhaps that’s just as well. The Red Hands now find themselves faced with the prospect of playing three matches in eight days in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup and Donnelly, who could find himself in charge for all three, feels this will be a salient test of their early-season mettle.
“All the players in the squad have been carrying the burden of the grief occasioned by the tragic death of Michaela McAreavey and now they feel that they can perhaps shine a light for the future by making a good start to 2011 on the field of play,” says Donnelly, who has been Harte’s able lieutenant since 2005.
With Harte expected to attend tomorrow’s game, the Tyrone team that was selected to face UUJ in last Wednesday’s postponed tie will now open their campaign against Donegal at Healy Park, Omagh (2.00pm) before going on to face Fermanagh on Wednesday at Enniskillen (7.00pm) and then confronting UUJ on Saturday at Healy Park (7.00pm).
“I think the players are glad of the opportunity to be going into action.
“They want to re-establish the rapport they have with the fans and prove that the spirit of Michaela McAreavey will continue to be very much in evidence long into the future,” adds Donnelly.
With 10 of the side that landed last year’s Ulster title on duty tomorrow, Tyrone will be in pole position to grab an early victory, particularly as vastly experienced campaigners such as Brian McGuigan, Stephen O’Neill and Martin Penrose are included in their attack.
Yet Donegal, who have already beaten UUJ in their only match to
date, will travel to Omagh comforted by an initial spurt of promise from several players who could emerge as key figures in their side this year.
Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy, Adrian Hanlon and Leo McLoone are three in particular who look as if they could provide new manager Jim McGuinness with the encouragement he needs to adhere to his attacking strategy.
Donegal captain Michael Murphy is currently playing with DCU in the O’Byrne Cup but will be back in harness for the National League.
Donegal are the current holders
of the McKenna Cup but McGuinness will not lose any sleep if they don’t retain the trophy as long as his side get into their stride quickly in the National League.
“That’s our chief concern,” he admits.
“We have players to come back into the side and at full strength we would be hopeful that we could face most challenges.”
Donegal are due to complete their scheduled McKenna Cup programme against Fermanagh next Saturday by which stage McGuinness expects to have rather more detailed knowledge of his strength in depth.
“We are assessing a number of players and we will see how things go.
“Obviously there will be a strong wave of emotion at Healy Park but once the match gets under way I feel we will be able to test ourselves,” explains manager McGuinness.