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Tyrone must target a new peak ahead of Ulster Championship opener: Donnelly

 

Pressure point: Tyrone skipper Mattie Donnelly believes his side is fired up to face Derry
Pressure point: Tyrone skipper Mattie Donnelly believes his side is fired up to face Derry
Mickey Harte
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Tyrone skipper Mattie Donnelly accepts that the squad now face the two most important weeks of the season to date as they prepare to put the finishing touches to preparations for the Ulster Championship preliminary round tie against Derry.

The manner in which the Red Hands finished their Allianz League campaign by recording wins over Dublin and Galway not only earned the team new respect but intensified the challenge for starting places in the championship to what Donnelly describes as an "unbelievable level".

With several newer players having made a big impact and another corps of talent on the bench, manager Mickey Harte would appear to have generous resources from which to launch a strong challenge for the title.

"I think the luxury we have there is that there is so much competition within the squad that if boys are not performing consistently at a high level then they could find themselves sitting the next game out," states Donnelly.

"The pressure is coming from within the squad which is always encouraging. This helps to keep players honest and this is what is being highlighted in training."

Derry's unbeaten surge on their way into Division Three has added an element of intrigue to a fixture for which Tyrone are still firm favourites but Donnelly accepts that his side will be in for a tough test .

"I think the match represents a massive challenge for both teams," points out Donnelly. "We said at the start of the year before a ball was kicked and after the championship draw that when this match came round we would probably be getting Derry at their most dangerous and that's how it has panned out."

"They are coming into the game with eight wins under their belts, they have players in their side who have come out on the wrong side of battles with Tyrone in the past and will want to remedy that.

"We are under no illusions about the quality that they have in their panel," insists Donnelly.

"When you go through their team you see excellent footballers who have performed at a high level for the most part. The challenge for us is to hit a new peak."

Donnelly believes that Tyrone's emphasis in training on aspects of their play that helped them to finish the league on a high can reap dividends in the championship.

"We don't know how effective the work we have been in April will be until we test ourselves in the Ulster Championship," admits Donnelly.

Meanwhile, GAA President John Horan is taking a strong line with those who suggest that club grounds should be opened to other sports.

The Association has come in for heavy criticism particularly on social media over the course of the past week after it proposed an eight-week ban on Donegal club Naomh Colmcille for hosting an "unauthorised tournament" in February to raise funds for local man Paul Dillon, who is battling Motor Neurone Disease.

Having also absorbed considerable rebuke and embarrassment during last year's Liam Miller benefit match controversy, the Association again finds itself in the line of public fire.

At GAA Congress earlier this year, delegates voted to open all county grounds to other sports at the discretion of Central Council, but club grounds are not permitted to host non-GAA games.

And Horan maintains that the Association does not intend to buckle under pressure from critics.

"I think it would be a very sad day that an organisation of our quality and standing would be constantly flip-flopping just because people get an opinion on social media," insists Horan.

"A large number of these people are not even members of our organisation. They are entitled to have their opinion, they are entitled to put it up on social media.

"But that's not what is coming through from the membership of our organisation where we have meetings and behave in a democratic manner."

Horan added that county boards will not be empowered to allow requests from clubs to host non-GAA games under any circumstances.

"No. If you go back to Congress, and everyone talked about a very quiet Congress, but nobody alluded to the fact that a 90 per cent vote carried that opening of association property at county board level - we're not going to extend it," he continued.

"That result was as strong as it was because an assurance was given it wouldn't extend down to clubs.

"This isn't about being careless, this isn't about being dictatorial, this is just giving good, strong leadership."

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