Donnelly expecting a massive battle against Derry

By Michael McMullan

GERARD Donnelly knows exactly what is coming down the track this weekend for his Tyrone minor side.

The Red Hands will take on reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions Derry in their own back yard at Owenbeg.

Donnelly, now in his fourth year at the helm, steered the Red Hands to the 2021 and 2022 Ulster titles.

Coming into this season, there wasn’t the same level of expectation of the current group when staked against previous winning minor teams.

“The year we’ve had what has been expected, up and down with some good performances and some bad,” Donnelly said.

Tyrone were on the wrong end of a 0-12 to 0-9 defeat when they faced Derry in the league.

In championship action, Tyrone came second in their group, behind Donegal on head to head. The tight nature, Donnelly feels, may not have any impact on this weekend’s semi-finals.

“I think everyone probably would have come into this year probably saying that Derry’s number one,” he said of Saturday’s opponents, who have five starters back on board from last summer’s All-Ireland win.

“Some of them were key men last year too,” he added, also commenting on how Armagh were comfortable winners over Tyrone in the 2023 Buncrana Cup final at U16 level.

“Donegal are really, really good and going well. Cavan were a really good team and Monaghan are always good.”

Donnelly also pointed to the strides made by Down and how they were unlucky not to make the quarter-finals.

“To play a Derry team up in Owenbeg…the scores they’ve been putting up have just been crazy but look, at the end of the day it’s a semi-final it’s a one-off game,” he added.

“You just have to try and give it your best that’s all you can do. Even if we perform to our best it might not be enough against Derry but if we don’t perform to our best you’d be afraid of what could happen on the other end of it.”

Star man Liam McGeary, Shea McDermott and Sean Óg Teague scored a combined 1-10 of their tally between them in last weekend’s win over Cavan at O’Neill’s Healy Park.

Derry are aiming for an eighth final appearance in a decade this weekend with a backbone from last season.

Jack McCloy returns in goals with captain James Sargent still at midfield while Eamon Young, Luke Grant and Ger Dillon on board. Dara McGuckin, a panellist last season, has slotted into the half-back line.

Derry were comfortable winners over Armagh and will be favourites to make Saturday another success step in their title defence.

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