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How Tyrone coach left a lasting legacy at weekend opponents Cavan

 

Fitness guru: Coalisland’s Peter Donnelly, pictured with son Ollie, who has wielded a big influence within his own county and Cavan
Fitness guru: Coalisland’s Peter Donnelly, pictured with son Ollie, who has wielded a big influence within his own county and Cavan
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Former Tyrone player Ciaran McBride believes that Peter Donnelly, the Red Hands' current strength and conditioning coach, has played a big part in restructuring Cavan's overall preparations for major matches.

It was after winning his second All-Ireland medal with Mickey Harte's team in 2008 that Donnelly took up an appointment with the Breffni county where he was to spend the next years six upgrading and streamlining training, coaching and conditioning before returning to his native county to assume a similar role.

Donnelly's influence within Cavan was such that a fistful of Ulster Under-21 titles were captured and a posse of exciting young players surged to the fore, sparking hopes that success at senior level was in the offing.

Sadly for Cavan, this did not quite prove to be the case, but now, as the team limbers up for Saturday's fourth round All-Ireland qualifier against Tyrone, their biggest challenge will be to combat the pace, penetration and power which have been instilled in the side by the diligent Donnelly.

McBride, who represented Tyrone from 1991 until 2001 and famously participated in the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final against Meath with his head heavily bandaged, is of the opinion that the strength and conditioning seeds sown by Donnelly in Cavan have helped to trigger a rich harvest of muscular warriors who can ask big questions from his native county on Saturday.

"I think that while Tyrone may have more experience and guile, I honestly believe that Cavan have shown the benefits of Peter Donnelly's handiwork down through recent years, and this will be evidenced in their physicality in this game," declares McBride.

"Tyrone are a bit of a juggernaut - generally, the more games they play the better they get. Conditioning-wise, I think they are in fantastic shape, and there is a general feeling abroad that Tyrone's performance against Kildare last weekend was as good as they have offered in a long time.

"But Cavan will be very happy to be going back to Clones where they played so well in the Ulster final. They have got better and stronger too and as a Tyrone man I would be nervous about the size and power of some of the Cavan players."

It was Cavan's stamina, effort and courage that helped to keep them on Donegal's shoulder until the final whistle sounded in the Ulster final, and McBride predicts that they can similarly go the distance with Tyrone.

"It was no surprise to me that someone in Cavan had the foresight to entice Peter Donnelly there. The foundations which he set up there are now coming to fruition - the initial benefits came in the shape of those Under-21 titles, but Cavan are now a force in the senior sphere," insists McBride.

Unsurprisingly, McBride feels that Donnelly's "pioneering initiatives" with Tyrone have helped the side to attain levels of fitness, stamina and staying power that would have hitherto been thought unimaginable.

"Peter certainly knows his stuff and Tyrone are currently the beneficiaries of that," states McBride.

"Whether it be in Cavan or Tyrone, he is usually seen at the top of the pyramid, whereas in reality he is beavering away at the lower end working diligently with the players of tomorrow. His pioneering initiatives are continuing to reap rich dividends."

McBride sees Saturday's Clones clash as "a proper" Championship showdown.

"We're back on holy turf in Clones, it has all the trappings of a knock-out Ulster Championship match that will be played to the death in front of a capacity crowd - who could ask for more?" queries McBride.

"I think the Saturday evening throw-in time is brilliant. I believe that Clones will be buzzing just like it was in the old days. The two teams will go at it hammer and tongs, but obviously as a proud Tyrone man I will be hoping that we come out on the right side of it."

McBride believes that the Super8s concept is proving a major bonus in the context of the annual fixtures calendar.

"The reward for the winners on Saturday is a guarantee of at least three more Championship matches," he points out.

"What manager would not give his right arm for this? There is no better way to bring a team on than by having them play against quality opposition and this is what is on offer."

Tyrone to date have played Derry, Antrim, Donegal, Longford and Kildare in the Championship season, but the pressure has now been stepped up for this meeting with Cavan, which many predict will be one of the matches of the year.

"It's all to play for - if Tyrone win it will mean they will get at least nine Championship matches," adds McBride.

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