By Chris Caldwell
BEN McDonnell believes Tyrone’s 6-15 to 1-14 thrashing at the hands of Kerry in the National League was the catalyst for the Red Hands to knuckle down and the spur for them to reach the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final.
After that mauling in Fitzgerald Stadium, Tyrone were written off by many of having any chance of claiming the Sam Maguire in 2021.
But those within the Red Hand camp thought differently and they have steadily improved from that point of the season to Saturday when they overcame the KIngdom 3-14 to 0-22 after extra-time at Croke Park to book their place in the September 11th decider with Mayo, who also upset the form book by ousting Dublin.
And Errigal Ciaran’s McDonnell, who made a telling contribution from the bench on Saturday believes their drive to the final started that disappointing June day in Kerry.
“A lot of ones wrote us off that day and even the bookies coming into today [Saturday] wrote us off, probably based on that performance,” he acknowledged.
“But I’d say we took a lot of learning, probably more learning from that game than Kerry did.
“It let us know where we were at and we put in four or five hard weeks of hard work after that and I think it benefited us more that day down in Kerry.”
Having taken plenty on board from that league defeat, Tyrone went into the semi-final without fear, knowing they had the ability and the strength to prove that result was an aberration, with hard work the key factor.
“The work these boys have put in and the legs they have – I’d say Conor Meyler’s GPS went through the roof!,” he added.
“I had full faith that fresh legs coming on like Liam Rafferty, wee Darragh Canavan was amazing, so we had full confidence, full faith and we looked at the Kerry team – David Clifford was away off injured, David Moran and some of their good ball players were away, so we knew if we didn’t do it today you wouldn’t know when the chance would come again.”
And McDonnell feels, like the League match, Saturday’s victory could prove to be a turning point for this squad under new managers, Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher.
“We knew what Kerry was going to come with, with that high press and I thought the boys done very well under the high kick-outs and under that high pressure,” he observed.
“It’s a big scalp for us because we’ve been getting a lot of stick over the years for not taking these big scalps on the big days when it matters, the likes of the Kerry’s, the Dublin’s, the Mayo’s, so that’s a big thing for us mentally to get over that line.
“Everyone wrote us off, they didn’t give us a chance, but this team of boys under this management, nothing is a lost cause.
“They had us well ready for that and personally, it’s big for me to get on there because Championship football at Croke Park is what you dream about.
“I’ve played at Croke Park before but not for Championship football and something like that there, so it was an unbelievable feeling to get the win at the end.
“All-Ireland final day is where you want to be, so if it was next week we’d take it, if it’s two weeks we’ll take it, we’re just grateful to have got the two weeks there to get boys recovered because we had a bad situation there, so it was good to get that cleared up.”