Donnelly predicts an even brighter future for Tyrone
By Paul Keane
All-Ireland winner Mattie Donnelly believes that Tyrone have so much more to offer, describing that as a 'scary' thought as they eye the future.
In truth, it's a scarier thought for the Red Hands' rivals who must be wondering exactly what more is to come after winning the All-Ireland in their first season under Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan.
Predecessor Mickey Harte also led Tyrone to All-Ireland success in his first season in charge, back in 2003, and the floodgates subsequently opened with follow up titles in 2005 and 2008.
There are obvious areas where the current Tyrone group can make further gains with Conn Kilpatrick, Conor McKenna, Cathal McShane and Darragh Canavan all appearing to have so much more to offer. The management team will surely have learned a huge amount from their first season in charge too.
"The scary thing is, that team probably isn't operating at optimum levels yet," said Donnelly, whose 57th Championship appearance was Saturday's All-Ireland final win over Mayo.
"We haven't reached our ceiling yet, so we have to look at that, and that makes the future exciting."
Former captain Donnelly feels the All-Ireland win may have a liberating effect on many of the players, clearing them to play with even more freedom now.
"100 per cent," he nodded. "It is the same in any place. I felt it with the club as well, when you are coming from a place with a tradition of winning you are always seeking that validation at that top table almost.
"Whether it's right or wrong, you are always going to be compared to that benchmark. We have our medal now and we have a lot to improve upon as I said, a lot more room to improve.
"Perhaps the medal will help us dip into that and tap into that. This team is a very exciting squad to be part of and I think in the next few years there is a lot there for us if we really apply ourselves well."
At 30, and having made his Championship debut back in 2012, versatile Donnelly has played most of his inter-county football under Harte.
"We can't lose sight of the fact that the management carried on from the base that was laid there by the previous management," said the Trillick attacker, referencing Harte's tireless efforts.
It reflected well on the Dooher-Logan management that having conceded six goals in the Allianz League semi-final to Kerry just last June, Tyrone then beat Monaghan, Kerry and Mayo in huge Championship games at Croke Park without conceding a single goal.
"We did have to review our defensive setup, our collective work rate and we improved that in abundance throughout the Championship," said Donnelly, captain of Tyrone when they came up short to Dublin in the 2018 decider. "It's been the foundation for our season. We probably weren't as functional in the top third in a lot of games this year so when we start addressing that and keep the back door the way it is, that's an exciting prospect."
Donnelly is joined by brother Richie on the Tyrone panel and said that winning the All-Ireland is the sweetest of achievements.
"Since we laced the boots up, it's what we've dreamed of, that's what I said to the boys," revealed Donnelly. "This isn't a thing that's going since last October, it's since we all laced our boots up.
"It's all come together and it's culminated in this. Even when I started out in the senior squad, you are all the time looking in front of you, to see what's coming, and you just knew with them boys coming that we have now, you just knew, everyone that was meant to be there was in that changing room for us. Just the perfect blend, the perfect mix, just the perfect team and the perfect result."