Tyrone 1-13 Donegal 0-12
From Chris McNulty in Omagh
This was a game that hinged on a crazy ending to the first half.
Tyrone gave the All-Ireland champions, Donegal, a guard of honour as they took to the field, but the pleasantries ended right there as Mickey Harte’s men continued their unbeaten start to 2013 with a four-point win before a healthy 9,676 in Omagh.
At a stage when Tyrone led by two points, 0-6 to 0-4, Donegal were awarded a penalty in the final minute of the half when Ross Wherity went down under a glut of challenges from a posse of Tyrone defenders.
Michael Murphy assumed responsibility, but the captain’s kick was well beaten away by Niall Morgan.
In an ensuing scramble, Murphy was red carded as a slide on Justin McMahon saw Joe McQuillan, the referee, brandish yellow to the Donegal man for a second time, having collected a 10th minute booking for persistent fouling.
With a two-point deficit and a man in arrears, not least a man of Murphy’s stature, it left Donegal in something of a perilous position at the interval.
When Stephen O’Neill rounded Paul Durcan for a goal after five minutes of the second half, their chances dimmed considerably. O’Neill’s effort bobbled home despite a brave full-length dive from Neil McGee, whose valiant attempt to keep the ball out ended in vain.
Tyrone clipped four in a row and with 15 minutes to go there were six between them as Sean Cavanagh’s score raised the crowd.
A Conor Clarke block denied Wherity a sniff of goal at a time when Donegal needed a three-pointer. Colm McFadden’s frees meant that Donegal were contested – but they needed a goal and couldn’t manage it with Man of the Match Morgan saving from McFadden in stoppage time.
They almost had one inside 15 seconds, but Rory Kavanagh shook the goalframe with a powerful effort after he’d burst in from Leo McLoone’s pass.
In the eleventh minute, a post at the other end denied Tyrone. A razor-sharp diagonal ball from captain Stephen O’Neill slipped by Eamon McGee, but Conor McAliskey seemed taken by surprise and he thumped off the outside of the post with only Durcan to beat.
With Neil Gallagher stationed in the full-forward line, Donegal’s preferred plan of attack early on was to go long and high toward the towering Glenswilly man, but after a number of deliveries failed to stick he traded places with Murphy after Sean Cavanagh curled Tyrone into a 0-3 to 0-1 lead in the 16th minute.
Niall Morgan, the Tyrone goalkeeper, and Colm McFadden traded points from placed balls before Mark Donnelly and then Cavanagh put Tyrone two in front.
A spectacular effort from Murphy brought Donegal to within a point again and the Tir Chonaill captain did likewise again when he slotted over after Peter Harte tapped over a close-range free.
With eight first-half minutes remaining, Murphy arched over a ’45 to draw them level, but the Red Hands had the upper hand at the break, in terms of personnel and scores.
Morgan, from a free, and Ronan McNamee put them 0-6 to 0-4 ahead at the break, but the madcap ending to the half that saw Morgan save Murphy’s penalty followed by the Donegal number 14 being sent off, meant that Donegal were staring at something of a mountain to climb at the break.
Without their talisman, though, they couldn’t pull off a comeback and their afternoon ended sourly with their numbers down to 13 after Neil Gallagher also saw red for a second yellow card in the 68th minute.
Tyrone, spurred by O’Neill’s 40th minute goal, claimed their eighth win from eight in 2013, coming 12 weeks before their swords cross in the Ulster Championship on May 26th. Still, it was not an afternoon for Donegal to get down on themselves. After all, had those incidents at the end of the first half panned out differently, how different the ending to the tale might have been.
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-3, 2f, 1 ’45); A McCrory, C Clarke, Justin McMahon; R McKenna (0-1), Joe McMahon (0-1), R McNamee (0-1); M Murphy, S Cavanagh (0-2); P McNiece, P Harte (0-2, 2f), Matthew Donnelly; C McAliskey, S O’Neill (1-2, 1f), Mark Donnelly (0-1). Subs: Martin Penrose for McAliskey (31 mins); A Cassidy for Murphy (half-time); C Cavanagh for McNiece (55 mins); C Gormley for Justin McMahon (62 mins); Ronan O’Neill for Mark Donnelly (62 mins).
Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; A Thompson (0-1), F McGlynn, M McHugh; M McElhinney, R Kavanagh; R Wherity (0-1), M Murphy (0-3, 1 ‘45), L McLoone (0-1); C McFadden (0-5, 5f), N Gallagher, R Bradley. Subs: P McBrearty (0-1) for McElhinney (half-time); R McHugh for Bradley (48 mins); D Molloy for M McHugh (66 mins).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).