Donegal 2-10 Tyrone 0-12
On a night when they needed a win, the bus carrying their old foes from across the border - who just happen to be the reigning All-Ireland champions - was perhaps just what Donegal wanted to roll into Ballybofey. As it happened, the Red Hands’ coach broke down at Sean MacCumhaill Park. It was that sort of night.
There was a nervousness in Donegal folk about this one. That feeling only lifted when Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí, in the final seconds of a tense night, bent down to flick home their second goal.
Level eight times in all, it was a game that seemed destined to finish level. Donegal, though, found a way.
Sub Oisin Gallen, appearing on his home turf, kicked Donegal in front. Gallen, along with Peadar Mogan, had a role in the move for the clinching goal, MacCeallabhuí’s finish raising the roof. Donegal stretched their unbeaten run in League games at Sean MacCumhaill Park to 21 - a sequence that goes back 12 years.
“It was satisfying performance,” Donegal manager Declan Bonner said. “A lot of young lads came of age. A lot of them stood up and were counted.”
One of those rising stars is Conor O’Donnell. The Carndonagh man batted to the net just before half-time. Donegal were trailing by four and badly in needed of a score when Patrick McBrearty invited O’Donnell to steer to the River End net.
Man of the Match O’Donnell added three second-half points for Donegal, who shipped some heavy criticism after a nine-point defeat in Kerry six days previously.
Bonner said: “The last 20 to 25 minutes from Conor were top class. He has been excellent. He’s brave. He kept looking and kept wanting to challenge, kept asking questions of Tyrone.”
Tyrone assumed control with a flurry of points, including a brace from the marauding corner-back Michael McKernan.
O’Donnell might have had a second goal, but Niall Morgan did well to keep out the Carndonagh man’s effort during a lengthy period of stoppage time, brought about by a nasty injury that saw Pádraig McNulty carried off on a stretcher.
Donegal, still without the influences of Michael Murphy and Michael Langan, brought themselves level, 1-4 to 0-7, by half-time, Jason McGee soaring over from long range.
In a tit-for-tat second half, both sides staked a claim to win it. Ultimately, Donegal found the key scores.
“It’s very tough with the physicality and speed of it,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a big step up to anything I’ve ever played. I’ve got a good run of games now and I’m getting used to the pace of it.”
Donegal: S Patton (0-1, one free); C Ward, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh (0-1), E Gallagher, O McFadden-Ferry; H McFadden, J McGee (0-1); S O'Donnell (0-1), P Mogan, C Thompson; P McBrearty (0-2, one free), C O'Donnell (1-3), N O'Donnell. Subs: J Mac Ceallabhuí for N.O'Donnell (36 mins), O Gallen (0-1) for McFadden (59 mins), D Ó Baoill and E O'Donnell for S O'Donnell and McFadden-Ferry (68 mins).
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan (0-2), P Hampsey, F Burns; N Sludden, J Munroe (0-1), K McGeary; C Kilpatrick (0-1), B Kennedy; N Donnelly, D Canavan (0-1), C Meyler; D McCurry (0-5, three frees), P McNulty, P Donaghy. Subs: R Donnelly (0-1) for McNulty (22 mins), C McShane (0-1) for Donaghy (56 mins), C McKenna for McGeary (68 mins).
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare)