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Durcan saves the day – and sets up history

DONEGAL 0-12 TYRONE 0-10

FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN CLONES

DONEGAL are at the drawbridge of provincial glory again after a stunning injury-time save from Paul Durcan saw them edge a real tactical battle of managerial wits at St Tiernach’s Park in Saturday evening’s semi-final.

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For the second year in a row, Donegal have beaten Mickey Harte’s Red Hands at the penultimate provincial hurdle – and they now look forward to a July 22nd meeting with Down as they seek to win back-to-back titles for the first time in the county’s history.

That they are back marching behind the St Michael’s Enniskillen Scout Band on Ulster final Sunday is largely thanks to a last-ditch save from big ‘Papa’.

With Donegal leading by three after an inspired period in the second-half, during which they kept Tyrone scoreless for 32 minutes, Tyrone went in search of a late slice of redemption against the 14 men of Tir Chonaill – who lost Colm McFadden to a second yellow card in the final minute of normal time.

Martin Penrose was the man who had the headline writers primed. A tasty jink and dummy saw him get a sniff of goal. The Carrickmore forward drilled powerfully and looked to have sent Durcan the wrong way – only for the Four Masters man’s sharpness to once again come to the fore, his left leg thrown at the leather to divert it onto the goal-frame.

It was no more than Donegal deserved for their second-half endeavours to be fair. However, they were pinned to the collars for long periods in a game that saw both sides set up defensive structures which ensured for a fascinating contest.

Tyrone had the plan worked out with a few long range points in a first-half that saw them take a slender 0-6 to 0-5 lead into the break – but Donegal hit back and firmly laid down their marker. From chokers to contenders, this was a game that was to tell us a lot about this Donegal team and the road they’ve travelled. This could well prove to be a defining moment for them. Last year, they got over the line late and there may have been seeds of doubt at times on Saturday.

Not anymore.
“It was as tough as it gets,” said Jim McGuinness afterwards

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“What they had to put into that performance to get out the other end with a victory was absolutely unbelievable and it’s testimony to the work they’ve done in the last 18 months that they were able to play in a game like that.”

Donegal were dealt an early blow with full-back Neil McGee forced off after just three minutes; a hamstring strain that had been troubling him taking its toll at a most early juncture.

Rory Kavanagh had returned at the expense of Leo McLoone in the only change from the facile win over Derry, but McGee’s withdrawal shook them a little. A brilliant long-ranger from Mark McHugh, from all of 50 metres, had given Donegal the edge, only for big Joe McMahon to level it up with a magnificent free from the same distance.

Stephen O’Neill and Michael Murphy (free) swapped scores and it was pretty much tit-for-tat for the remainder of the first-half, with the sides level five times in the opening period.

Tyrone’s already lengthy injury list had made Donegal favourites pre-match and they made three further late alterations with rookie Conor Clarke replacing Justin McMahon at full-back – and Clarke performed admirably it must be said – while Ryan McMenamin took the place of Cathal McCarron and Mattie Donnelly replaced the injured Ronan McNabb.

Mark Donnelly fisted Tyrone ahead, but Donegal responded through a well-taken Patrick McBrearty point. That was after Donegal survived a real scare: Durcan palming a slippery effort across goal by Joe McMahon, with a brave Paddy McGrath block thwarting the rebound of Mark Donnelly; and a second follow-up by McMahon deflecting wide. Right there was the tale of the first-half in the one passage.

By this stage, Jim McGuinness was out on the sidelines urging his men to ‘up the ante’ – but Clarke got up to punt Tyrone ahead.

Frees by Murphy and McFadden, either side of a score by Sean O’Neill, levelled matters again and it looked like half-time deadlock until Tyrone secured a phycological edge as Penrose landed a beauty from 40 metres to give them the advantage.

A two-point lead was opened for the first time when McMahon landed another long-range free. However, Donegal remained calm and Rory Kavanagh stole in for two stylish points and the teams were level again.

Corner-back Dermot Carlin, in the claustrophobic conditions that were such that Penrose was often back taking kick-outs off Pascal McConnell, was proving a dangerous attacking option and he swept Tyrone ahead with the fourth point in the opening five minutes of part two.

From here, Donegal pressed the gas.

McFadden equalised and the green and gold were ahead for only the second time when Man of the Match Ryan Bradley brilliantly scooped up and popped over with the outside of the right boot.

Donegal survived a second goal scare when O’Neill got in behind Eamon McGee for a rare sight of goal, only to be denied by the bar. Murphy curled over a free ten minutes from time and Donegal led by two again.

While Brian McGuigan, out of the squad since last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin, was sent in with a statement of intent, Donegal’s response was the perfect one. McBrearty cut out a poor McConnell kick out before a mature off-load teed up Karl Lacey, who put three in it for the first time.

In a game of inches, Donegal were now yards ahead. And a little breathing space was won when the imperious McFadden slid to pick up a low ball from McBrearty, sprang up around Conor Gormley and arched over the black spot.

Then came the expected onslaught. McFadden saw red for a second yellow card and O’Neill and Gormley (’45) ended the Tyrone famine. But it was Durcan’s left leg that Donegal had to thank for recording a win that could become a landmark win.

For now, it means making history is possible on July 22nd.

Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn; Eamon McGee, Karl Lacey (0-1), Anthony Thompson; Ryan Bradley (0-1), Neil Gallagher; David Walsh, Rory Kavanagh (0-2), Mark McHugh (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-1), Michael Murphy (0-3, 3f), Colm McFadden (0-3, 1f). Subs: Declan Walsh for N.McGee (3 mins); Martin McElhinney for Gallagher (54 mins); Martin O’Reilly for David Walsh (54 mins); Leo McLoone for Bradley (69 mins); Christy Toye for McBrearty (73 mins).

Tyrone: Pascal McConnell; Aidan McCrory, Conor Clarke (0-1), Dermot Carlin (0-1); Ryan McMenamin, Conor Gormley (0-1, 1 ’45), Sean O’Neill (0-1); Joe McMahon (0-2, 2f), Colm Cavanagh; Mattie Donnelly, Mark Donnelly (0-1), Peter Harte; Martin Penrose (0-1), Stephen O’Neill (0-2), Owen Mulligan. Subs: Ronan McNabb for Mulligan (50 mins); Brian McGuigan for Mattie Donnelly (61 mins); Aidan Cassidy for Mark Donnelly (65 mins); Niall McKenna for McMenamin (65 mins).

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).

 

 

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