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Mattie Donnelly in line for role as Tyrone's utility man

By John Campbell

Mattie Donnelly is not sure if he will be handed the No 6 or the No 14 jersey – or indeed any shirt –for Tyrone's opening Ulster Championship tie against Down at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday.

What he does know, though, is that manager Mickey Harte will expect him to maximise his versatility for the good of the team.

Donnelly played at full-forward for a portion of the league, flanked for the most part by Darren McCurry and Ronan O'Neill.

But the Trillick clubman could be handed a different role for the showdown against James McCartan's side now that Kyle Coney and Connor McAliskey are firing on all cylinders again.

Both players missed the early-season action, Coney because he was recovering from surgery on a troublesome ankle problem and McAliskey because of a dislocated shoulder.

Coney's eight points in the drawn league game against Cork highlighted the fact that he can now transfer his exquisite finishing skills onto the Ulster stage while McAliskey has rediscovered the scoring touch which initially marked him down as a forward of rare quality.

For Donnelly, Sunday's game will be another opportunity to underline his value to the side.

Last year he landed two points in the championship opener against Donegal, both from difficult angles, but the fact that his side lost the game by 2-10 to 0-10 meant that his Ulster Championship experience remains limited.

Yet in Tyrone's surge through the qualifiers Donnelly scored in the games against Offaly, Kildare and Meath before Mayo put paid to the team's hopes of landing the Sam Maguire Cup at the semi-final stage.

With Peter Harte likely to be deployed at wing-back, Coney set for the full-forward role and McAliskey and Darren McCurry certain to get the corner forward positions, Donnelly could be deployed as a link between defence and attack.

"The fact that we have players who have come back from injury gives us a better blend now," points out Donnelly. "We have home advantage against Down and while that guarantees us nothing, it is help nonetheless."

Donnelly's work-rate and his ball-winning capacity mean that Tyrone should be well-served in terms of capturing first-phase possession while he is also likely to be given freedom to push forward and support his attack.

Skipper Sean Cavanagh believes that the players' ability to adapt to different positions could prove a key element in Tyrone's championship campaign.

"We are looking no further than Down on Sunday but the boys in the team are all prepared to do what they are asked to do in order to get us over the line and this more than anything shows the spirit that is within the side," stresses Cavanagh.

Belfast Telegraph


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