By Barry O’Donnell
A CONSISTENT performance over the full 70-plus minutes will be required if Tyrone are to get past arch rivals Donegal on Saturday week and keep alive their prospects of another Ulster title, Richie Donnelly has warned
The Trillick ace turned in a match of the match display last Saturday as the Red Hands put Antrim to the sword 2-23 to 2-9 to set up yet another tasty collision with the Tir Chonaill in the semi-final on June 8th at Breffni Park.
As against Derry in the previous round, there was never any realistic suggestion that an upset was on the cards, with the gulf between Division One and Division Two outfits all too readily apparent.
Yet as was the case in the Oak Leafers tie, the Tyrone defence was breached with alarming ease at times by the Saffrons in the second half, and while the match was as good as wrapped up by that juncture, Donnelly stressed that such weaknesses could come back to haunt them against higher calibre opposition further down the line.
He said that the intensity levels must not be allowed to slip to the extent that has been evident in their two Championship matches to date.
“We have been playing in patches now against Derry and Antrim, and in order to get through to an Ulster final, we’ll need to put 70 minutes together, because it’s going to be a massive challenge. That will be a big focus now, putting it all together.
“Our whole preparation now in training will be to drive the standard over the next two weeks and we’ll be well prepared and ready for the next one.”
Donnelly chipped in with three points from play in the Saffron triumph, one of 14 different scorers for Tyrone on the evening at the Athletic Grounds. He attributes much of the credit for their more clinical edge in attack to the work being done behind the scenes by former county star Stephen O’Neill.
“It’s good to see, it’s very refreshing. Stevie’s doing good work with us. It’s good to get variety in our attacks and scorers, because in recent years, we may have relied on certain individuals to get us scores. So whenever you have variety and good team play, it definitely makes you a harder team to break down.”
He also feels that Tyrone have benefited from mixing up their attacking play, blending a running game with a more orthodox direct, kicking style. It was a tactic which paid dividends in the second half of their league campaign and is something they are keen to carry onto the Championship stage, even if it hasn’t been perfected as yet
“That’s one of the things we’ll have to work on going into the next game, because there were times when we were kicking it when we shouldn’t have, and we ran it when we shouldn’t have. So it’s just about that decision-making and getting it right in the final third. It’s the standard that’s required and it wasn’t good enough against Antrim.”
Though two victories over Division Four opposition won’t cause Dublin supporters too many sleepless night, Donnelly believes that the outings with Derry and Antrim should still stand to Tyrone.
“It’s still a championship game, we still put a lot of miles on the legs there up and down, and there was times it was intense. It’s still a game of football, it beats training.
“We’re always striving to improve. There’s a lot of good play, a lot of good angles running the ball and some good movement, but the key was not taking touches and playing as a team, and it’s hard to mark that when the ball is moving as opposed to one player moving.”
And Richie also feels that the strength in depth on the sidelines could also be a pivotal factor for Tyrone as their Championship campaign gathers steam.
“That’s what it’s about, the reinforcements coming in off the bench. That’s what this team will be built on, the boys coming in and finishing the job off. They’re probably more important than the men that start the game.”