Tyrone lay down a marker for May date
Tyrone 1-13 Donegal 0-12:As a pointer to what is expected to be the counties’ seismic championship clash in May, yesterday’s Division One encounter before 9,676 in Healy Park, Omagh, was imprecise. But both managers appeared largely happy with what they got on an afternoon, which by consensus turned on a penalty awarded just before half-time.
This was a modern game in snapshot: two teams with isolated full forward lines and a teeming mass of humanity in between. It was intense and claustrophobic with sufficient physicality, edge and opportunistic fouling to produce more than 50 frees and 13 yellow cards, including the two double doses that ensured All-Ireland champions Donegal finished with 13 men.
Tyrone had the better of the first half and were leading by two, 0-6 to 0-4, with the interval beckoning. They’d never trailed and kicked some nice points from play, the pick being Ronan McNamee’s swinging left-foot shot for the sixth.
Michael Murphy had been delivering his customary performance this season, constantly menacing and scoring a lovely point himself – one of three – when toying with Conor Clarke on the right wing before flighting the ball between the posts.
When Ross Wherity went on a mazy run in the 34th minute his progress was ended in the square by a push from Ryan McKenna.
Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan won the Man of the Match award from TG4 for kicking three dead-ball awards over the bar, handling confidently – and even more pivotally, saving Murphy’s penalty.
That had even more severe consequences for Donegal when their captain followed up and caught Justin McMahon with a stretching boot, leaving referee Joe McQuillan no option but to show the player a second yellow card and dismiss him.
Neil Gallagher – sent off in the final minutes for a second yellow – was restored to centrefield for the second half after an experimental phase in the full forwards and Patrick McBrearty was introduced.
Tyrone’s Joe McMahon pushed the margin to three with an early point on resumption. Leo McLoone and Anthony Thompson cut the margin to one but in the 40th minute, after McNamee had a shot blocked, Stephen O’Neill’s shot from an acute angle was deflected by Neil McGee’s almost successful intervention; instead the ball spun in the air and entered the net with Clarke hovering to make sure.
A swift succession of points from a Morgan free, O’Neill, another free from Peter Harte and McKenna put the home side ahead 1-11 to 0-7. Donegal pushed hard and the second-half yielded eight points but they needed a goal and when Wherity got a chance after 51 minutes Clarke blocked smartly for a 45.