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Tyrone talisman Donnelly happy to play supporting role

By John Campbell

Mark Donnelly is preparing to shoulder considerable responsibility when he lines out for Tyrone against Mayo in Sunday's All-Ireland football semi-final.

The Carrickmore clubman, initially introduced to the side as a corner forward by Mickey Harte, found himself subsequently cast as a conventional centre three-quarters but is now tasked with a more deep-lying role which encompasses linking defence and attack.

It's a job which Donnelly feels he has "grown into" but which he tackles with relish because it is viewed by manager Harte as central to the team's overall strategy.

"I remember starting out as a corner forward and getting the odd score and then being pulled back into the half-forward line," muses Donnelly.

"Then this year I find myself playing a much more deep role but I have settled into this and I'm certainly looking forward to Sunday."

In tandem with Peter Harte and Joe McMahon, Donnelly is nominally a forward who is expected to shoulder defensive duties and provide support for the frontrunners in a Tyrone side that has won five games in six weeks following their Ulster championship defeat to Donegal at the end of May.

"Obviously I am expected to get up and down the field but I have adapted my game to that," explains schoolteacher Donnelly.

"It means that we have to get back and cover areas into which we feel the opposition might put the ball and then we have to get up and support our counter-attacks so it is all-action stuff."

Donnelly is one of the fittest and most energetic players in the Tyrone side but admits that Croke Park can prove a draining experience in high-intensity matches.

And he is conscious that Mayo's stamina and supreme conditioning have been standing them in good stead over the course of the championship season to date.

"I have always attempted to keep both my speed and endurance at a high level. I find these are absolutely essential requirements for my role and I'm constantly working on them," reveals Donnelly.

"I am now more of a link player charged with getting the ball into the men inside and this means that you are always on the go and you must be unselfish. Mind you, it's hard to be in two places at one and the same time – that's how challenging the role is.

"Mayo have shown that they are in great physical condition, they never stop running, they are active all over the park and they will take some stopping."

Donnelly singles out former Tyrone trainer Paddy Tally, who was his coach at St Mary's University College, and current fitness guru Fergal McCann as people who have played an important part in helping to fashion his county career.

"Paddy and Fergal have been an invaluable help to me and I am very grateful for that. They have provided me with the encouragement and technical expertise to maintain my fitness and stamina at a high level," adds Donnelly.

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