Donegal eye prize again after show of strength

Tyrone’s challenge wilts after the break as Jim McGuinness’s side flexes muscle at Ballybofey

Donegal’s Colm McFadden celebrates scoring his sides opening goal as Tyrone’s goalkeeper Niall Morgan and Cathal McCarron look on at Ballybofey.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Donegal’s Colm McFadden celebrates scoring his sides opening goal as Tyrone’s goalkeeper Niall Morgan and Cathal McCarron look on at Ballybofey. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho


Donegal 2-10 Tyrone 0-10: Donegal roared back into business yesterday in Ballybofey with a performance that squeezed Tyrone into submission and threw their opponents’ fine league campaign back at them like a spent tube of toothpaste.

It wouldn’t be fair on Mickey Harte’s team to cast the game in the same category of damp squib as the previous week’s meeting of Mayo and Galway but damp it certainly was as the rain pelted down on MacCumhaill Park. And there’s no doubt that the challengers will have been disappointed to lose more comprehensively in the end than they did last year.

It was a statement by Donegal, surely en route to an unprecedented three-in-a-row in the province, and indicated that they have managed to preserve the edge that All-Ireland champions so often lose in the year after breakthrough success.

It was all the more impressive in that not all of the various injury concerns hovering over the starting 15 cleared and the two missing were Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey and All-Star Mark McHugh, both of whom had sustained setbacks in the lead-up to the match. Declan and David Walsh started in their place.

McHugh and Lacey eventually took the field and made decent contributions to the team performance, winning the approval of manager Jim McGuinness who commended the former’s effectiveness in his familiar sweeping role and the latter’s equally characteristic intelligence on the ball when it was time to close out the match.

Critical goal
He also took plaudits for the display of another replacement Ross Wherity, who galvanised the ball-winning effort in the middle third and within a minute of taking the field had palmed home what proved the critical goal of the afternoon.

It was all so familiar from recent years: Donegal’s resilience when under pressure in the first half, going up the gears in the third quarter and taking it home in the fourth.

Ultimately, Tyrone paid the price for not making more of their superiority in the first half. They started with a rejigged lineout: Joe McMahon pushed to centrefield, Seán Cavanagh into the more threatening half-forward role with Matthew Donnelly dropping to wing back.

Having weathered a poor start, with Donegal leading by three, 0-4 to 0-1, Tyrone began to get on top. They dominated the kick-outs and with Conor Gormley leading the half backs, won the breaks as well.

Under pressure, unusual gaps appeared in Donegal’s ranks and as their opponents probed the wings, particularly the left flank, the challengers’ confidence burgeoned with some spectacular points from acute angles: a characteristic piece of brilliance from Stephen O’Neill, who was otherwise well contained, a not quite so characteristic flash from the industrious Colm Cavanagh and a couple from the raiding Matthew Donnelly.

But with Tyrone having taken the lead 0-5 to 0-6, the key score came from a free by Michael Murphy from the middle of the field after he had been fouled off the ball. It was touched on by Paddy McBrearty to Colm McFadden whose finish ensured that Donegal led at the break 1-6 to 0-7.

By then Tyrone had kicked seven wides and Donegal just one.

Soaked up pressure
Within a few minutes of the restart, Tyrone were back on level terms, as Justin McNulty and Seán Cavanagh kicked points - the latter taking a bit of deliberation before being validated.

The match was on the line and as is the practice, Donegal soaked up the pressure and then struck for a second goal which effectively settled the match.

McBrearty’s drive down the right flank left Dermot Carlin – a second-half replacement whose first two touches were excellent interventions but who struggled a bit after having to go off with a blood injury – flailing and as he scooted along the end-line he kept his composure to pick out the incoming Wherity for 2-6 to 0-9.

Tyrone visibly wilted whereas Donegal pushed even harder. In the final quarter the winners tacked on another four points while their dejected opponents couldn’t manage a third score of the half until injury-time, more than half an hour after their second.

To add to their woes Joe McMahon was sent off for a second yellow card in the 63rd minute.

1. P Durcan; 2. P McGrath, 3. N McGee, 4. F McGlynn; 7. A Thompson, 5. E McGee, 17. Declan Walsh; 8. R Kavanagh (0-1), 9. N Gallagher; 23. David Walsh (0-1), 11. L McLoone, 10. R Bradley; 13. P McBrearty (0-2), 14. M Murphy ( capt., 0-3, 0-2 frees), 15. C McFadden (1-3). Subs: 12. M McHugh for McGlynn (21 mins), 26. M O’Reilly for Bradley (half-time), 20. M McElhinney for David Walsh (43 mins), 21. R Wherity (1-0) for McLoone (48 mins), 6. K Lacey for Thompson (48 mins). Yellow cards: McLoone (35 mins), McGrath (68 mins).
TYRONE: N Morgan (0-1, free); 2. PJ Quinn, 3. C Clarke, 4. C McCarron; 7. C Gormley, 5. Justin McMahon (0-1), 10. Matthew Donnelly (0-2); 8. C Cavanagh (0-1), 6. Joe McMahon; 12. Mark Donnelly, 9. S Cavanagh (0-2, 0-1 free), 11. P Harte; 13. M Penrose, 14. S O’Neill (capt; 0-1), 15. C McAliskey (0-1). Subs: 25. P McNiece for McAliskey (27 mins), 17. D Carlin for Quinn (half-time), 18. A Cassidy for Justin McMahon (56 mins), 19. K Coney (0-1) for Mark Donnelly (59 mins). Yellow cards: McAliskey (23 mins), Harte (31 mins), Joe McMahon (55 and 63 mins), C Cavanagh (61 mins), S Cavanagh (63 mins). Red Card: McMahon (63 mins).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).