Donegal’s dominant record over Tyrone looks likely to continue

Donegal have taken over the mantle of Ulster’s most successful county

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh and Donegal’s Michael Murphy in action during their Allianz League Division One match at Ballybofey, Co Donegal. Photograph: Inpho

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh and Donegal’s Michael Murphy in action during their Allianz League Division One match at Ballybofey, Co Donegal. Photograph: Inpho

 

The big lift-off to this year’s football championship comes on Sunday with the meeting of Tyrone and Donegal, who between them have won five of the last six Ulster titles. Aside from having to travel, general prospects don’t look great for Tyrone.

Only seven weeks ago the county was blitzed by Donegal in the league, losing by 10 points – a chasm in the context of consistently tight finishes between the counties. In the Mickey Harte era Tyrone have a noticeably poor record against their western neighbours. Sunday is the sixth championship match between the counties since Harte took over Tyrone and he has been on the winning side only once, in 2007.

During that period otherwise Tyrone have won four Ulster titles and three All-Irelands but Donegal remain their bête noirs. Even in 2004 when Tyrone were defending the county’s first All-Ireland title as well as the Ulster championship they went down to Donegal in the provincial semi-final.

Recent results

The exception to the recent trend came in 2007, a time when Donegal were believed to be on the verge of making a championship impact after an impressive league campaign, including the defeat of All-Ireland champions Kerry in Letterkenny, which had led to the county’s first title and having beaten reigning Ulster champions Armagh in the first round.

The Donegal manager that year was Brian McIver, currently in charge of Derry but originally a Tyrone man from Ardboe. Tyrone demolished them on the day, recovering from a bad spring and on the way to the Ulster title.

In the first match of the recent sequence, four years ago, Jim McGuinness’s first year, Donegal won by a last-minute goal and left Tyrone frustrated and wondering how the match eluded them. Losing two players contributed: Kevin Hughes to a second yellow card in the last 10 minutes and Joe McMahon 15 minutes earlier to concussion but failure to take scores haunted Tyrone, who scored just six from 18 chances in the first half whereas their opponents tallied four from five.

Durcan save

Paul Durcan

Even the comparatively comfortable six-point win two years ago in Donegal’s first defence of their 2012 All-Ireland hung in the balance until a goal in the 48th minute by Ross Wherity put daylight between the teams on a wet afternoon during which Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan whose place kicking had been a major weapon for the team, had a bad day off the tee and missed five out of six.

Given the depth of rivalry and at times the hostility that can mark Tyrone’s rivalry with Armagh and Derry, is it surprising there isn’t more bitterness in the county’s relations with one of its other neighbours?

“I don’t know,” says McEniff, who has family in Tyrone, his mother’s county. “You have Tyrone people holidaying in Donegal and we go to Omagh to shop so there are links between the counties and also a lot of inter-marrying between the two.

“Then in west Tyrone and east Donegal there’s great kinship between the clubs and they play a lot of tournaments.”

Maybe though the key to Tyrone’s chances of creating an upset is in the law of averages – the limit to how long two competing counties can play with just one outcome. In 2007 after the county’s most recent championship win over Donegal Harte might have put his finger on it. “The more you win, the closer you are to getting beaten.”

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