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Tyrone footballer, Ben McDonnell. 
Tyrone footballer, Ben McDonnell. 

Tyrone's McDonnell keen to build on Monaghan win

By Michael Devlin

Tyrone’s seven-point win over Monaghan jump-started their stuttering Division One league campaign, but, according to Ben McDonnell, the victory won’t count for much unless they back it up with another two points against Cavan this Saturday in Omagh.

On Saturday night Tyrone looked much more akin the team that reached last year’s All-Ireland final, producing their first win in this season’s Division One with a performance that demonstrated the sort of purpose and zest that their previous outings sorely lacked.

With only one league point gained from their first three games, Tyrone came into the weekend staring in the face of relegation and in desperate need of a win.

While the 1-16 to 0-12 result lifts them up to fifth in the table, survival still hinges on taking as many points as possible out of their remaining three games, beginning this weekend with another Healy Park tie against the Breffni County.

“It’s important to get those points, we’re looking to survive,” McDonnell told GAA.ie after the game. “Division One football is important, we don’t want to be playing Division Two next year, we want to be up here playing with all the top dogs. A win was crucial, but it means nothing unless we follow it up with a win next week against Cavan.

“There wasn’t much confidence in us after those first two games, but there wasn’t much pressure, we knew we had to go out and that the two points were important. We just kept the heads and knew it was an important game for us. We worked hard for the win.”

Tyrone have been facing criticism over their poor scoring returns in their first three games, to which the Red Hand attack had registered just 1-27. A more alarming statistic is that only 1-10 of that came from open play, with two of those points coming from goalkeeper Niall Morgan.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Cathal McShane following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 4 match between Tyrone and Monaghan at Healy Park in Omagh, Co Tyrone. 
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Cathal McShane following the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 4 match between Tyrone and Monaghan at Healy Park in Omagh, Co Tyrone. 

On Saturday evening however it appeared the shackles had been loosened as Mickey Harte’s men ran up a 1-16 total, with 1-8 coming from play. McDonnell says the squad has been toiling on the training ground to rediscover the scoring touch that saw them end last season’s Division One campaign as joint second-highest scorers alongside Dublin.

“We’re working hard on attacking football. Everyone sees us as a defensive team, but we are working on attacking with Stevie O’Neill in with us. It’s great to see us rack up big scores and breaking lines there tonight.

“The intensity was raised to a different level. The boys were supporting each other, and we had a good two weeks of training over us there. It was just all about going out and working hard.

“We knew we had two weeks, so we worked hard on the training field as well as sitting down and looking at a lot of tactics, a lot of video work, to see what we had to work on. It was good to get that break.”

It’s McDonnell’s second year on the Tyrone panel, and having served time around the fringes last season, the young Errigal Ciaran man has moved up the pecking order in 2019.

Mickey Harte handed him a starting berth just before the throw-in of the drawn game against Roscommon a fortnight ago, and McDonnell kept his place in the first fifteen to turn in an assured display on Saturday evening, scoring a point in the process.

An athletic, versatile player who can operate at midfield as well as in half back and half forward roles, he’s hoping he can produce more of the same to establish himself as a regular for the season ahead.

“When I came in Mickey and Horse [Gavin Devlin] told me what I had to work on, and how I had to build myself up to get to this level. I bided my time and I’m grateful to them for having the confidence in me.

“We’ve players to come in there, big Colly [Cavanagh] and all, so the positions are limited, but I’ll keep giving it my all and keep pushing. Competition is key at this level.”

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