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Gormley aims to block out Donegal path

By John Campbell

Time has not dulled the memory of one of the finest and certainly most significant blocks ever undertaken at Croke Park.

Ten years may have elapsed since Tyrone's Conor Gormley flung himself onto the boot of Armagh sharpshooter Steven McDonnell two minutes from the end of a riveting All-Ireland final to help prevent a certain goal but the cameo has since gained iconic status.

Today, a 32-year-old veteran in a Tyrone side awash with fresh faces, Gormley still remains a defensive pillar and no one has more cause to be grateful for this than his manager Mickey Harte.

As Tyrone sallied forth to claim the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup and then make an early impact in the league, Ronan McNamee and Ryan McKenna were enterprising half-backs eager to convince the boss that they were there to stay.

But when push came to shove, an infusion of experience saw the defence overhauled to some extent and not surprisingly Gormley, battle-hardened and still thirsting for more honours, will now help to man the barricades at Ballybofey on Sunday.

The psychological wounds inflicted on Tyrone by Donegal in the Ulster Championship in 2011 and last year saw Gormley, who has won three All-Ireland medals and four Ulster honours in addition to his three Allstars, feel the pain more sharply perhaps than others.

"When you are a defender you like to think that you have helped to thwart the opposition but we weren't able to do that on those occasions," he said.

"Hopefully, though, we will be more successful on Sunday. Our side has been reinvigorated by the new faces that have come in and there's a great sense of togetherness which I feel bodes well for us."

Having played in every defensive position other than goalkeeper, Gormley knows precisely what it will take to keep Donegal in check.

"You simply cannot afford to give them any room or time on the ball or they will punish you," said Gormley.

"Their inside forwards Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty are deadly. They showed what they are capable of over the past couple of years and they will be hungry for scores on Sunday."

He is joined by his Carrickmore club colleagues Mark Donnelly and Martin Penrose in a Tyrone side that has come to the boil at just the right time.

Even in losing to Dublin in the Allianz League final, the general consensus is that this particular game actually threw up more positives for the Red Hands.

"We have absorbed lessons from that game and this can help make us an even better side. But on Sunday we are facing the reigning Ulster and All Ireland champions in their own back yard and it surely gets no tougher than that," said Gormley.

"We will need to hit the ground running in the game because we simply cannot afford to allow Donegal to dictate matters."

Given the mammoth task that his side face, it is hardly surprising that manager Harte is delighted Gormley is still capable of effecting the kind of blocks which rocketed him to national prominence a decade ago.

Belfast Telegraph

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