Mark Donnelly relishing Tyrone chance he thought had gone
ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION ONE FINAL
- Venue: Croke Park
- Date: Sunday, 28 April
- Throw-in: 16:00 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster 1341 medium wave and the BBC Sport website
Mark Donnelly is thoroughly enjoying the chance to shine for Tyrone that he thought had passed him by.
The Carrickmore man had Tyrone trials in 2004 and 2005 without making the squad and had more or less given up on county football by the time he decided to spend a year in Australia in 2007.
"I suppose when I went travelling for year, (I thought) that was my chance over," Donnelly told BBC Sport NI.
But the call finally came in 2010 and Donnelly hasn't really looked back.
Donnelly had to bide his team after his initial call-up three years ago but he played his first League game in the Spring of 2011 and has largely been a permanent fixture in Mickey Harte's team over the last two seasons.
Tyrone forward Mark Donnelly
“ When the county call-up came, I was just so grateful and so surprised”
The 29-year-old goes into the Sunday's Division 1 decider against Dublin in the form of his life having bagged crucial goals in Tyrone's last two games, the back-to-back wins over Kildare, which brought his tally of league goals this season to an impressive four.
Looking ahead to the Dublin clash, Donnelly remembers being in the 80,000 Croke Park crowd for the League opener in 2009 when the then All-Ireland champions faced the Dubs.
"I was in the Davin Stand with 80 children from the Primary School (where I work) and thinking that it would be great to be playing. I just feel very fortunate that I'm getting the chance now."
Carrickmore were the dominant force in Tyrone football in the mid-2000s but despite being "very close" to making the squad, Donnelly remained on the outside.
Thoughts of a county call-up were far from his mind when he returned from Australia in 2008 as he lined out again for Carrickmore with the attitude of just enjoying his club football again.
"But then the county call-up came and I was just so grateful and so surprised.
"When that happened, I just decided I would give it a crack and thankfully it has just worked out."
The modest Donnelly attributes much of his excellent form this season to the presence of Stephen O'Neill in the Red Hands full-forward line.
"He knows how to win and he knows how to score. Without his presence in the team, we would be lacking. A player of his ability, talent and experience is so invaluable."