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Antrim starlet set to have his name in lights

By John Campbell

It's not often that two Ulster players bearing the same name simultaneously emerge into the limelight in different codes.

Tyrone and Antrim are the counties that boast their own individual versions of Matthew Donnelly – and indeed are very happy to avail of their rich talent.

While Tyrone's Matthew hit the high spots during the team's charge into the closing stages of the All-Ireland Football Championship in which they lost to Mayo following a disappointing Ulster Championship first round defeat to Donegal, Antrim's Matthew is right now strongly focused on Saturday's All-Ireland U21 Hurling Championship final against Clare.

And with both destined to enjoy protracted spells in their respective teams given their inherent ability, mature outlook and potential to deliver even further on their skills, the name Matthew Donnelly will continue to figure highly in a GAA context.

If Trillick clubman Matthew has cemented his value to the Red Hands over the course of the summer, then Ballycastle's Matthew has signalled his arrival as very much a chip off the old block.

His banker father Brian wore the Antrim and Ulster jersey with distinction in the 1980's and played in the Saffrons side that lost to Tipperary in the 1989 All-Ireland final after they had overcame Offaly in a memorable semi-final with Jim Nelson as manager.

A highly cultured, thoughtful defender, Brian and his brother Dessie contributed greatly to one of the best periods in the history of Antrim hurling.

Now it's Matthew's turn to take a centre stage role and he is certainly under no illusions about the enormity of the task that Antrim will face against red-hot favourites Clare on Saturday.

"While it was just fantastic to have beaten Wexford in the semi-final, we know for sure that Clare will be a different proposition," admits the strapping 20-year-old defender.

"We know that they will have boys in the side who saw action against Cork in the drawn All-Ireland senior final last Sunday and that tells us nearly all we know about the quality of the opposition we will be meeting."

Antrim may have enjoyed a slight rub of the green against Wexford when Stephen McAfee's rather innocuous third-minute effort somehow eluded the grasp of the opposition goalkeeper but Donnelly junior believes they will have to make their own luck come Saturday.

"Clare have emerged as a major force at Under-21 level and we are going to be up against it. But we are ready for the challenge," he states with more than a hint of defiance.

When Antrim manager Kevin Ryan suggested in the aftermath of the win over Wexford that Antrim should perhaps boycott the final because it was arranged for Thurles, his words by and large fell on stony ground.

Matthew, for one, can't wait to stride out at Semple Stadium. "There's nowhere I would rather be than playing at the spiritual home of hurling in an All-Ireland final. I can't wait for the action to commence," he says.

"This is what we train and hope for, after all," the Saffrons ace adds.

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