DONEGAL 1-13 TYRONE 1-10
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT SEAN MACCUMHAILL PARK
THE weather even played its part in this one – providing a dark and dank backdrop to the latest chapter in a compelling rivalry.
It felt like the perfect setting before the 17,435 who wedged their way into the Sean MacCumhaill Park . What ensued was a vibrant, pulsating and ferocious battle by the Finn.
Donegal continued their recent dominance of Tyrone as the Ulster champions drew on their big game experience with their big names to the fore when it mattered most.
It’s now four Ulster Championship wins on the trot for Donegal against Mickey Harte’s side – who’ve lost to Donegal more than any other in Championship football in his tenure.
Since 2011, Donegal have now won 14 of their last 15 Ulster SFC games and are unbeaten in 13 League and Championship games in Ballybofey.
By the end, the audience had to draw a collective breath for it had been a frenetic finale in which Tyrone threw all their might in search of a goal.
At that stage, both sides were down to 14 men with Neil Gallagher and Sean Cavanagh sent off, Gallagher getting two bookings and Cavanagh black carded after an earlier booking.
Donegal certainly missed Gallagher’s presence when Tyrone launched a late search for a rescuing score, but they survived. Peter Harte saw a flicked effort clawed to safety by Paul Durcan, while Colm Cavanagh steered onto the crossbar and Mattie Donnelly had hearts in mouths when a late, late snap shot flew wide of the target.
As it was, three points by Michael Murphy in the 57th, 60th and 69th minutes separated the teams when the busy Joe McQuillan shrilled the whistle for the final time.
Murphy had been central to the story again. For the duration, Justin McMahon lived in Murphy’s face. The Omagh man had the sole job of keeping Murphy quiet and while he kept him scoreless for almost an hour, the targeting of the Donegal captain again raised its head on the big stage. The Glenswilly man certainly did well to keep his head under such intense scrutiny.
Donegal had big performances from Karl Lacey and Frank McGlynn, while Martin McElhinney scored 1-2 and Colm McFadden – into the team in place of his namesake, Hugh – was magnificent in a deep role we’ve rarely seen him before.
Donegal got off to a flying start, with McGlynn opening the scoring after only thirty seconds. It set the tone for a blistering beginning by the hosts, as McBrearty, Toye and McElhinney opened up a four-point lead.
Tyrone struck gold in the 10th minute when Peter Harte provided the assist for Darren McCurry and he picked his spot to perfection, firing across Durcan into the far corner.
McFadden and McElhinney boomed over scores to keep Donegal three ahead, but Tyrone were in front when Sean Cavanagh arched over in the 33rd minute.
In between times, McMahon managed to let himself away from Murphy for a brief moment to score a point, after Durcan saved from Harte, while three from Cavanagh helped give Tyrone the lead.
Donegal grasped hold of the game again in the dying moments of the first half. The clock was already in added time when Odhrán MacNiallais was denied by Championship debutant Michael O’Neill – playing due to an injury to Niall Morgan – but McElhinney fired in the rebound.
McFadden completed the first-half scoring, but the action ended on a rather sour note with players, officials and backroom members clashing as they met heading into the tunnel. Murphy was shoved by Gavin Devlin and there were several minor scuffles breaking out, although McQuillan took no action.
Tyrone twice managed to reel in two-point deficits in the second half. Cavanagh and Connor McAliskey scored the opening two points of part two.
Even when Patrick McBrearty and Lacey landed quick-fire points, Tyrone hit back again with a McAliskey brace. However, his score in the 51st minute was their final score as Mickey Harte’s men failed to register in the last 19 minutes.
Donegal had chances to put the game out of reach. McBrearty, after McElhinney and McGlynn combined, was denied by a strong right-handed save by O’Neill and McGlynn’s volley for the rebound was wide.
When Donegal needed a match-winner they turned to Murphy. Shackled and surely frustrated close to breaking point by McMahon, he nailed three late placed ball kicks to demonstrate again his priceless value.
And Durcan came to the rescue at the other end when he got a hand to Harte’s hopeful effort. Gallagher and Cavanagh were now spectators having been lined and the game was still up for grabs, but Donegal held on to their lot and move into a quarter-final clash with Armagh, whose manager Kieran McGeeney was in attendance.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey (0-1), Frank McGlynn (0-1); Neil Gallagher, Odhrán MacNiallais; Martin O’Reilly, Martin McElhinney (1-2), Christy Toye (0-2); Patrick McBrearty (0-2), Michael Murphy (0-3, 2f, 1 ’45), Colm McFadden (0-2). Subs: Mark McHugh for O’Reilly (39 mins), Anthony Thompson for Toye (67 mins), David Walsh for McElhinney (70 mins), Daniel McLaughlin for McFadden (70 mins).
TYRONE: Michael O’Neill; Aidan McCrory, Ronan McNamee (0-1), Cathal McCarron; Ronan McNabb, Justin McMahon (0-1), Peter Harte; Colm Cavanagh, Sean Cavanagh (0-4, 3f); Rory Brennan, Mattie Donnelly (0-1), Barry Tierney; Darren McCurry (1-0), Cathal McShane, Connor McAliskey (0-3). Subs: Padraig McNulty for McShane (42 mins), Tiernan McCann for Tierney (55 mins), Mark Bradley for McCurry (63 mins), Ronan O’Neill for McAliskey (67 mins).
REFEREE: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).