St Ronan's ready for biggest test of all: Mickey Donnelly
Mickey Donnelly may be Tyrone through and through but helping to groom a fresh tranche of talent for deadly rivals Armagh is a priority for him right now.
The fiercely-committed Mickey, son of legendary Ulster Council dynamo Cuthbert and brother of that body's executive officer Stephen, is joint coach of the St Ronan's College, Lurgan side that will meet Rice College, Westport in Saturday's All-Ireland Colleges Hogan Cup final.
And it's in this capacity that he believes he is seeing some of the brightest talent to have emerged in the Orchard county for some time.
"It's a privilege to be working with these St Ronan's lads and my coaching colleagues David Wilson and Collie Fegan," says Donnelly.
"Here we are with St Ronan's in the Hogan Cup final in only our third year in the Ulster Colleges sector. We're going to Croke Park on Saturday knowing that we face a massive test against Rice College but the players have faith in their ability and a burning desire to prove themselves on the biggest schools' stage of all."
St Ronan's have certainly taken the hard route to Headquarters. They beat Patrician College, Carrickmacross by a point, hurdled St Patrick's College, Armagh by a similar margin, overcame St Patrick's College, Maghera by a brace of points in the MacRory Cup final and then had three points to spare over Pobalscoil Chorcha Dhuibhne in their All-Ireland semi-final.
"Yes, the players have certainly learned how to close out matches but I honestly believe that this will stand to them on Saturday when the pressure is on," insists Donnelly.
"They have shown they can cope when the intensity is at its highest and I know they will stand up to be counted against Rice College who are also in their first Hogan Cup final and will be very keen to make a big impact.
"These two teams have been training from September through the worst winter we have had for years and they are now within touching distance of the biggest trophy on offer in the schools' sphere," says Donnelly.
"The Rice College attack is particularly strong but then our defence is a very capable unit. If we can keep it tight and maybe gain in confidence as the game progresses you never know what might happen. It is going to be a big challenge for the players."
Rice College have looked impressive to date and with football fever still prevalent in Mayo, the team can expect huge support at Headquarters. So Donnelly is urging Armagh followers to get behind his St Ronan's side.
"It would be great to see the side get big vocal backing at Croke Park. That's where you really need it because it can mean so much. It's the biggest day in the sporting lives of these lads to date, that's for sure," he adds.