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McDonnell keen to push forward after Championship bow

Close eye: Ben McDonnell and Derry’s Enda Lynn do battle
Close eye: Ben McDonnell and Derry’s Enda Lynn do battle
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

When Tyrone and Antrim face off in the Ulster Championship on May 25, one man in the Saffrons backroom team will have plans for two of the Red Hands players.

Fionntan Devlin is Lenny Harbinson's strength and conditioning coach, charged with getting the Antrim players in the right shape to face Tyrone.

However, he performs the same role for Errigal Ciaran, who are managed by Pascal Canavan, Tyrone's midfielder from the 1995 All-Ireland final. As such, there is little he does not know about Peter Harte and the Red Hands' latest Championship debutant, Ben McDonnell.

Along with Antrim coach Brendan Trainor, another local man who hails from Augher, Devlin has been embedded in Tyrone football for well over a decade, both men working in the football nursery of St Ciaran's College, Ballygawley.

McDonnell said: "The two of them have a lot of inside information on Tyrone. They are going to have their work done on us as well. They have been preparing to face us or Derry and they are going to be well set up.

"We have to get the work done over the next two weeks."

UUJ student McDonnell made his first Championship appearance for Tyrone in Sunday's preliminary round win over Derry in Omagh, where he attended school at the CBS.

"It was great. It was great to come out on your home pitch and experience the atmosphere. It was unreal," he said.

"Obviously there is a lot more pressure. The nerves on Championship day are there too. You just have to try your best.

"Last year, I wasn't making the matchday panel of 26, so I was glad to be in the panel this year and pushing, just looking to get that chance.

"You have that wee bit more extra pressure as well as the crowd too, a lot of expectations on your debut. But I just tried to focus on the game and the game plan."

McDonnell's mind was set at ease by how well his role had been drilled into him. However, the strength of the Oak Leafs was something not entirely anticipated by many.

"We always knew that Derry were going to come out and stretch things in the second half. We were only three points up at half-time and they were still well within the winning of the game. So we knew they had to come out in the second and they gave us a damn good game of it," said McDonnell.

"That goal they got rocked us big time and we responded well to it. That's a big positive too, how we responded to it."

As a measure of how far Tyrone have travelled, the fact that they got their goal in the very next play after Derry took the lead for the first and only time in the match was instructive. They executed crucial skills under pressure, something McDonnell believes is a testament to their collective mentality.

"The competition to get onto the pitch and the mental side of it to get that position or get game time at all, it is not a 15-man game now at all," he said.

"Look at the subs that came on, Darren McCurry and the quality of that finish. That competition is what pushes us on and it wins games, the six impact subs."

For now, they knuckle down to face Antrim in the Athletic Grounds in under a fortnight's time.

McDonnell said: "We have to take a look at Antrim now and take the next game as it comes. There are a lot of negatives here but a lot of positives as well."

He then turned his attention to the 1-19 compiled against Derry and added: "It's good to rack up high scores. That's what we have been working on.

"Derry were quite defensive and it was good to get that kind of score, but we shipped a lot of scores ourselves."

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