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Tyrone going all out to secure McKenna Cup

Tyrone, along with Cork, were the only county to speak out against the rules changes at last year's Annual Congress, but they only picked up their first black card in injury time of what was their fourth game of the season against Derry on Sunday.

And the man who was banished to the line – Mattie Donnelly – pleads innocence for the body-checking offence, yet warns that teams are going to have to be vigilant in future.

"I don't think there was anything cynical in it," he explained at the Setanta station launch of their National League coverage in Belfast. "When I went in for the tackle I thought your man had the ball and he must have shipped it off right before the contact.

"As far as I was aware he had the ball as he was coming to me, so I was surprised. I will probably have to be more aware in the future in getting into those kind of tackles. It's frustrating too, as you miss out on the physicality.

"You just have to time them better, or just be more cautious."

The student of University Ulster Jordanstown also points out that the expected rash of black cards has not occurred, adding, "So far the refs have been very good about it, there's been a bit of common sense. I'd be happy enough and confident enough about it, but it's down to the referee's interpretation, that's the unfortunate thing."

After seeing off neighbours Derry, Tyrone now head into their 10th Dr McKenna Cup final of Mickey Harte's tenure. That astonishing record is partly down to the fact they don't play challenge matches and so it is the only domain that trialists or hopefuls can impress in and push for a place on the league squad.

However, they meet a Cavan side in the final at Brewster Park – a venue that successive Cavan under-21 teams beat Tyrone sides in the Ulster finals of 2011 and 2012. As Donnelly is aware, they are a coming force.

"I know a lot of their players feel they are capable of competing at the top very soon. I would say they think 'it's not if it's going to happen, it's when', and they'll see Saturday night as a chance.

"It's not dissimilar to Tyrone when they started out getting to the McKenna cup final in 2003. They definitely believe they're going to be competing and they'll be very hard opposition this year, and for the next few years."

Last year Cavan had a haphazard league campaign, failing to threaten for promotion from division three. The fact that two divisions separate them will hold little relevance on Saturday night, the Trillick clubman insists.

"Both teams will be looking to get off to good starts in the League, so they'll both be going hell-for-leather.

"So if Cavan beat us on Saturday there's no point saying 'Well, it's only the McKenna Cup' because we will be going 100% to win it – and so will they."

Belfast Telegraph

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