WHEN accepting the McKenna Cup as Tyrone captain on Saturday night, Mattie Donnelly told the crowd that Tyrone needs Derry and Derry needs Tyrone.
It neatly summed up what had happened over 90 minutes of manic football in Armagh as the two rivals went toe-to-toe in part three of their five-game saga.
Tyrone’s 1-22 to 1-17 extra-time victory made it 3-0 to them following an earlier McKenna Cup win and an O’Fiaich success, but the League and Ulster Championship meetings are already whetting the appetite as one of the GAA’s greatest rivalries has taken on a new lease of life this season.
“The Tyrone and Derry rivalry has stood the test of time,” said the Trillick man.
“I think that’s because of the respect both counties have for each other.
“We both go at it hard but fair and that will make for an interesting few months.
“It certainly was played at a serious pace. For boys only coming back after Christmas and getting into the swing of things, it was tough going out there.
“If you get through it, it stands you well and it’s good to have those situations and scenarios when you’re behind going into the end of the game.”
The ability to overcome the deficit – the Red Hands trailed by three points with two minutes remaining in normal time – owed a lot to the performances of some of the younger players on the squad.
Lee Brennan was a threat all night while Hugh Pat McGeary constantly raided up the pitch. Conor Meyler, introduced at half-time, was in wonderful form as he carried the ball up and down the pitch and managed three points.
Donnelly feels that the newer members of the panel are an indication of the talent that exists within the county.
“No matter what age you are you have the potential to make an impact,” he said.
“That’s what they’re doing, they’re so full of energy, so full of positive energy.
“They are not content to sit there and bide their time, they’re putting in more work than any of the seasoned players.”
With McKenna and O’Fiaich Cups already locked away in the trophy cabinet, the next step for this side is to make their return to Division One.
That pursuit starts at home to Cavan on Sunday, and Donnelly feels that mentally they are in a good place right now.
“When the game was in the melting pot there was a bit of pandemonium,” he said of the win at the Athletic Grounds.
“It’s good to get into the habit of keeping your head and making good decisions in the heat of the battle. I think we did that at stages.
“There’s a lot to work on obviously, but at this time of year you couldn’t ask for more, that’s worth 10 training sessions there.
“This game was good preparation, but it’s all preparation for next Sunday against Cavan.
“That’s going to be another real tough battle. That’s the one we want to win.”