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Donnelly going Down the road to Ulster glory

By John Campbell

It could only happen in Ulster.

On Sunday a Tyrone man will attempt to take a Down side further along the route to an elite position currently held by an Armagh club!

Michael Donnelly is the man in question and he is in charge of the Mayobridge side that hopes to overcome Longstone in the Powerade Down SFC final as a prelude to mounting a serious assault on the AIB Ulster Club title currently held by Crossmaglen Rangers.

Donnelly, son of well-known Tyrone official Cuthbert and brother of Ulster Council operations manager Stephen, acknowledges that Mayobridge still feel the pain of Ulster Club final defeats inflicted in the recent Past by Ballinderry, Crossmaglen and Errigal Ciaran.

In his first year in charge of the side, he has overseen their progress into the county decider but is all too well aware that the team's followers have their sights set on a lofty target.

" There is a deep yearning to land the Ulster Club crown, but for the moment we must focus totally on Longstone," he said.

"They are the only side on our radar."

Mayobridge, buoyed by seven titles since 1999 and playing with a considerable swagger right now, know that provincial success is the real benchmark by which they will be judged.

And that's why Donnelly is hoping for big performances from key players such as Brendan Coulter, Michael Walsh, Brendan Grant, Ronan Sexton and Robbie Coulter on Sunday.

Longstone have arrived in the final having rediscovered their cutting edge since the return of skipper Ambrose Rodgers following a long-term cruciate ligament injury.

He's there to bolster the midfield while Barry Doran, Mark Poland and Ryan Kelly are other key players.

Rodgers, son of the former Longstone and Down skipper of the same name, is hoping to go one better than his late father by leading Longstone to domestic glory.

"That would be a big bonus but Mayobridge will be a huge test for us," he admits.

The final will be staged in conjunction with the official re-opening of the refurbished Pairc Esler with GAA president Nickey Brennan the VIP guest.

The ground is now one of the best in the country and bears ample testimony to the work undertaken by the Down board, the Newry Shamrocks club, Club Down and the Ulster Council.

Down officials are hopeful that the occasion will prove memorable from every viewpoint.

"We have a very attractive pairing in the senior final and the fact that this will be the formal unveiling of the new-look Pairc Esler will make it an extra-special occasion," says county PRO Diarmuid Cahill.

" We expect the fans to come out in big numbers."

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