Red Hands all out to retain title says new skipper Donnelly.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

NEW Tyrone captain Mattie Donnelly is unconcerned with statistics, records and the prospect of winning a seventh successive Dr McKenna Cup title.

But the Tyrone star insists that the holders will be going all out to retain the trophy. He places a high value on the pre-season competition, and feels it's crucial in providing a solid foundation for the season ahead.

The Red Hands face Antrim, St Mary's and Cavan in the group stages, and a string of games in January will give the Red Hands vital competitive action as they prepare for the National Football League.

"It's more about getting the minutes in the legs and getting the house in order for the National League really," said Donnelly.

"Obviously when you put on the Tyrone jersey, you're always eager to do well and give one hundred per cent effort.

"That's the nature of a county player now, they never want to come out second best in any tussle.

"So we'll be going on to the field with that approach, and obviously we have a lot of boys who have been knocking o=about the squad for a few years and feel this is a big year for them.

"And you have the new fellows coming in as well and giving it energy, so you always find it's eagerly awaited and eagerly contested when the ball is thrown in for the McKenna Cup, just for that energy.

"Fans around the county can't wait to get going, and the players are the same, and you would like to think you're going to compete in all those games, and hit the ground running for the National League."

Tyrone fans are looking forward to a more attacking approach from their team in 2018, and the appointment of former star Stephen O'Neill as forwards coach has created a sense of expectation that they will shed their defensive image in the year ahead.

"It's early days. We'll know when we get a few games behind us," said Donnelly.

"Stephen O'Neill has been in helping and his instincts would be more towards the attacking side of the game.

"He's doing a lot of good work with the team, but that's going to take time and that's going to take games and patience from all involved before you see that come to fruition.

"You could point to the games we played in the lead-up to Dublin, we were one of the top scoring teams throughout Ireland, and in the last two Ulster campaigns.

"That would tell me we have attacking talent, we have men who know where the posts are and know how to finish for scores.

"But in the latter stages against Dublin, and even Mayo the year before, we probably could have troubled them more in attack.

"It falls in with every other facet of our play, including defensively. We'll be sharpening our instincts there, and probably sharpening our tools around the middle of the park as well.

"Obviously that final third, which is extremely decisive in a big game, is something where we have a lot of scope to improve on too.

"But I would be happy that we have all the answers there in the set-up at the minute to be able to address that."

Tyrone's heavy defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final last August brought the season to a bitterly disappointing end, and now the Ulster champions must find a way to close the gap on the All-Ireland champions.

Donnelly accepts that there's much work to be done, but he feels the gulf is not as wide as most people think.

"The gap probably isn't as big as it would appear to the outside world, but there obviously is a gap there between Dublin and everyone else, because ultimately they have been the best team in Ireland for the last three years," said the Trillick man.

"Every other team will be thinking the same, how they can catch up and compete with Dublin, and they're no different than us, and really their approach will be no different than ours either.

We will be working really hard from now until the championship." And he is confident that damaged morale will soon be restored once the new season gets under way.

"Once boys hit the field for McKenna Cup and National League and get a few games together, morale won't be long picking up.

"There'll be no real scars. I think if you look through any team's story, they always have a defeat similar to what we experienced against Dublin.

"And if you look at the age profile of our team as well, our team, even still, would be very, very young.

"It was a harsh defeat and a harsh lesson in many ways, but you have to go through those, and there's a lot of different teams, including Dublin, that you can reference having suffered similar experiences of similar defeats.

We'd be hoping that we can use that in a similar way those teams have."


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