Donegal sweep aside Tyrone and make a powerful statement of summer intent
Jim McGuinness’s team serve notice that thet have retained their hunger
Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh is surrounded by a pack of Donegal players in Ballybofey
Well now we know. All winter, we wondered what version of Donegal would be presented for summer service. We pointed to year after year of All-Ireland champions who all tripped and fell eventually and reasoned that none of them ever had to be this ready this early. We mostly took Jim McGuinness at his word when he dismissed the league’s relegation as a non-issue but kept the caveat handy in our pockets just in case.
No need for it now. Donegal answered the biggest question they will face this side of the August Bank Holiday and they did it with the firmness and finality of a judge’s gavel. They sent Tyrone home from Ballybofey with a 2-10 to 0-10 detonation ringing in their ears.
If the rest of the country was banking on diminished Donegal hunger as the chink to work towards, this was notice served. Forget the league, forget everything you’ve assumed. Summer is here. And summer is what they’re for.
“In the last two years the exact same thing was said,” said McGuinness afterwards. “The only difference this year was that we were relegated. It was the media who made the story out of that. We had the exact same approach as we had last year. There was a lot of talk about putting all the eggs into one basket, but it was the same last year and the same the year before.
“That’s what we do – it’s championship football. It will be no different next year. It was a media spin that got the whole debate going. Next year we will put all our eggs in that basket again.” It’s hard not to believe him, for Donegal yesterday were the same force of nature that Donegal a year ago showed themselves to be.
They broke Tyrone’s will so completely that Mickey Harte’s side didn’t register a score for the last 32 minutes. When Seán Cavanagh lofted a score shortly after the break – hotly disputed by the Donegal crowd, by the by – it hauled the sides back to parity at 1-6 to 0-9 and cancelled out Colm McFadden’s first-half goal. It was also Tyrone’s last score of the day.
The Donegal substitute, only on the pitch a matter of moments, banged it home and with one bound the champions were free. McBrearty and Michael Murphy cherried the cake and Tyrone had nothing in response. Niall Morgan scored just a single point from six attempts all day.
“They’re a very strong side,” said Mickey Harte afterwards. “I think they’re improving season by season and that was evidenced out there today by the way they managed that game because there were times when we had a foothold but they still hung in there and they put us under pressure.
“We were creating chances and we weren’t putting them away. They have a very good gameplan and it works well for them and I think they’re developing it all the time and their players are growing in confidence. Definitely, they’re on an upward curve.”
Others for whom the rocket is rising after a rattling good Sunday’s fare are Louth, Wicklow and even the forgotten brethren over in London. In Portlaoise, Aidan O’Rourke’s Louth side were comprehensive winners over Laois, running out with a 1-16 to 1-6 for which they were perfectly good value. Brian White was in exceptional form at centre-half forward and he received plenty of help from Shane Lennon, Paddy Keenan and Andy McDonnell.
If that was a slight tremor, shock of the day came in Ruislip where London registered their first Connacht Championship win since 1977 with a 1-12 to 0-14 win over Sligo. An early Lorcan Mulvey goal set the foundation and the steady score-taking of Mark Gottsche saw them home. It means that either London or Leitrim will now be in the Connacht final.
On another day, Wicklow’s 1-15 to 0-16 win over Longford would have stood out a mile. And down south, Kerry ran up a straightforward 2-19 to 0-8 victory over Tipperary.
Summer’s first rumbles have made themselves heard.