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Derry will pose a huge challenge, says Donnelly


Major test: Mattie Donnelly
Major test: Mattie Donnelly
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Any assessment of Tyrone's performances in the recent Allianz League will invariably focus strongly on the parts played by skipper Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte and Cathal McShane in particular.

The trio were cast in pivotal attacking roles by manager Mickey Harte and carried out their brief with considerable aplomb.

So much so, indeed, that they can expect to find themselves very much in the spotlight when their team confronts Derry in the eagerly-awaited Ulster Senior Football Championship preliminary round tie at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday.

But Donnelly, currently revelling in his role as leader of the pack, is anxious to keep things in perspective ahead of the clash with an Oak Leaf side that chalked up eight successive victories in securing promotion from Division Four to Division Three.

"The league seems like a lifetime ago now," reflects Trillick clubman Donnelly.

"I always enjoy playing for Tyrone in any position for which I am selected. That has varied over the last few years during which I played in a number of positions but I have been a bit more advanced lately. This is a by-product of how the team as a whole is playing. They have been doing so well and showing so much energy lately that everyone has been enjoying their football."

Tyrone's positive, adventurous strategy certainly underpinned their league campaign and saw them rack up some impressive scores.

They left the good wine to the end by overcoming Dublin and Galway - and now Donnelly accepts that his players have raised the bar that little bit higher.

"This game against Derry is certainly a big challenge but we are looking forward to it," maintains Donnelly. "Obviously looking at the bigger picture there will be a huge emphasis on Dublin but we won't know at what level they will be operating at until they go into action in the Leinster Championship.

"They have the best players and the best squad overall in the country and, until proven otherwise, we will not know how close other teams are to them.

"For the moment, though, our whole focus is on Derry. The rivalry we have had with them has stood the test of time over the years.

"Now it's up to the players from both sides to show why this is so and it will be a huge challenge for us to reach the level we need to achieve in this preliminary round tie."

It is expected that both Harte and Damian McErlain will unveil their line-ups tonight.

Harte has already confirmed that he has no major injury worries, while McErlain will be without Eamon McGill who is recovering from a wrist injury.

The absence of Michael McEvoy in particular - who has gone to the USA - could be felt within a defence that will have its hands full against the Tyrone attack.

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