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Donnelly can be a real star - Cavanagh

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Donnelly can be a real star - Cavanagh thumbnailTyrone's Mattie Donnelly attempts to offload ths ball

MATTIE Donnelly's new strike role is a work in progress, and Sean Cavanagh believes the All-Star midfielder can become the marquee attacker that Tyrone so badly need.

Donnelly has been deployed in the front line in the last two games, and while he has scored just one point over both Ulster derby wins over Monaghan and Cavan, Red Hand skipper Cavanagh is confident the transition will be a success.

He is looking forward to forging a potent strike partnership with the Trillick man as Tyrone seek a fresh new point of attack that will help them challenge for supremacy once again.

“Probably we haven't played with a couple of physical players in there, size-wise, and it will take maybe a wee bit of tweaking, but there were signs there that we were linking up quite well, and it probably gives us that wee bit more impetus to let the ball in that wee bit longer," said Cavanagh.

“This last couple of years, we probably ran the ball quite hard through the hands, and we obviously had the players to do that.

“But now with Mattie there, in the second half, letting the long balls in to him, and it only takes one of those to go right and you're probably going to create more goal chances.

“If that's the case, and it works out like that, it will definitely be another string to our bow."

Addressing the issue of the loss of Donnelly's strong running and telling support runs from the central area, treble All-Ireland winner Cavanagh contended that the squad is packed with players suited to operating around midfield.

“I think we have an awful lot of players that can play in that middle sector. Whilst Mattie in particular is very good at running on to play, he can play in the half back, midfield or half forward sector, and he's good coming on to play, it really does give us another string to our bow, the fact that he has that physicality inside.

“I think the more we have that, the more the guys will become comfortable with moving the ball in that little big quicker.

“You can see how the likes of the Dublins and Kerrys and Mayos, that have dominated the top end of our game for the last three or four years, have always had that physical strength inside, that, at certain points in the game, they were able to move that ball in that bit quicker.

“It's something we're trying at the minute. It may not stay like that, but I think we're well equipped with the guys we have out the field."

After trailing by four points at half-time, Tyrone went on the rampage with the wind in their backs after the break, out-scoring Cavan by 12 points to one, and plunging Mattie McGleenan's side into a relegation dogfight.

And it was the impact off the bench of Mark Bradley (0-3) and Ronan O'Neill (0-2) that finished off the Breffni men at sun-drenched Healy Park.

“We have seen Dublin do that for this last number of year, and there's no secret to the success that they have had," said Cavanagh.

“Quite often you find that teams are set up to stop the first fifteen players and there's certain players sent out on assignment to stop certain players.

“But whenever guys are coming in off the bench, it's hard to negate them during a short space of time. you're not sure where they're dropping in, and I suppose we have that many players that are inter-changeable, it's not easy to try and stop the likes of wee Sparky (Mark Bradley) or Rony (Ronan O'Neill), who are able to turn on sixpences and have an eye for a score.

“We have been talking about it for the past couple of years, how we have 26, 28 players that really there's very little between them in terms of quality, and we're very fortunate to have that depth."

Cavanagh never doubted Tyrone's ability to turn the game around after Cavan had turned around at the break with a four points lead, placing his faith in the fitness of an exciting group of players.

“In the first half, it may not have looked like it, but there was a fair breeze, and it was difficult to pick those pockets from distance.

“They were defending quite deep, and it probably suited them in the first half to play deep and hit us on the break, and they got a goal on the breakaway as well.

“But as things opened up, as they quite often do, around 45, 50 minutes, we had the legs, we had the guys to spring from the bench, and the spaces eventually began to appear, and whenever you have the quality finishers that we have, we were able to start doing the damage.

“And that's when most games are won, but obviously we had that wee bit of wind advantage as well.

“It's a testament to our guys that we were able to switch up and change the play from time to time, and we're trying to kick the ball a bit more this year and move the ball on a bit quicker, and it seems to be working."

Cavanagh himself, now in his 16th season in county colours, was still going strong after 70-odd minutes, having made his first start this year.

“I have been training probably since November now, I have missed probably two collective sessions since we started out in November. So I'm feeling pretty strong and fit, injuries are good, and I'm just enjoying getting back out and getting the lungs opened up on a day like that."

He continued: "A lot has been said about our physique and fitness. We kind of knew that as the game wore on, our guys would start to pierce holes in their defence.

“Omagh was a lovely surface out there today, it was quite dry and the ball was being moved quite quickly, particularly in that second half.

“And whenever you have that and you have the guys who are able to start picking the holes, we knew we would get opportunities.

“Whilst in the first half we weren't able to shoot from distance, in the second half, we were able to kick from that wee bit of distance, and we were starting to make hay."

Tyrone's unbeaten run goes on the line this weekend in a third successive Ulster derby, a trip to Ballybofey to face Donegal.

“I don't think Ballybofey has been a happy hunting ground for anyone in recent times," said Cavanagh.

“It's going to be another big challenge, but we have openly spoken about trying to make it to a league final.

“If we are going to do that, we're going to have to go to places like Ballybofey and try and grind out results.

“While we played in Division Two last year, and we probably to a certain extent cruised through some games in third or four gear, we know next Saturday night we're going to have to be on top of our game.

“It's going to be a war, it's another Ulster one. We played them there in '13 and '15 and they turned us over there, so I think it's the next step in this team's evolution, to try and go to places like Ballybofey and try and grind out results, and if we can come out with a one point victory, that's going to be progress for us."

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