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Curtain down on Ulster as McFadden makes his final bow

By Declan Bogue

Published 08/08/2016

Closely marked: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly is tackled by Mayo’s Donal Vaughan at Croke Park
Closely marked: Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly is tackled by Mayo’s Donal Vaughan at Croke Park

Saturday evening was a balmy one in Croke Park, where veteran journalists confessed they had never felt as warm in what is usually a micro-climate of the open press box.

But it was a bad night for Ulster, full stop.

This was a game - and an All-Ireland quarter-final - for Tyrone to make their bones in Croke Park, against a Mayo side that never looked as convincing as in previous years.

The temptation now is to see this Red Hands team as the equivalent of Donegal in 2011. They're almost watertight at the back and solid in midfield. Up front, however, it's best not to say too much.

Perhaps they will come back next year with a greater dynamism to their play, one that can extract a sharper cutting edge when it really matters.

At the close of play, Tyrone ended up with only one of their starting six forwards on the pitch; Sean Cavanagh was sent off, while Niall Sludden, Cathal McShane, Ronan O'Neill and Connor McAliskey were all replaced at some point during the game.

From play, only Sludden registered, with a single point. Asked if his team needs that bit more experience, manager Mickey Harte posed a different question.

"You could say any of those things when you know the result," he reflected.

"If we had got a draw, or a chance to get another point and win that game, would that be an issue? I don't think it would be.

"It was just two teams that gave it all they had to try and get the result. This was all about the result, it wasn't about pretty football, it was about getting to a semi-final - that was the target for both of us.

"They got enough scores on the board and we didn't."

Donegal were not expected to win their quarter-final at the same venue

No one is against Dublin, but when Ryan McHugh palmed in Eamonn McGee's inviting handpass at the start of the second-half, with Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly sent off shortly afterwards, it looked like an evening flush with possibilities.

As it transpired, the possibilities belonged to the defending champions.

They had the option to send on a stellar forward like Paul Mannion, who skated through a thin Donegal defence to calmly slide the ball under Mark Anthony McGinley and kill off the Ulster side's hopes.

It also killed off the career of their great attacker, Colm Anthony McFadden. He might have retired at the end of 2010, but brother-in-law Jim McGuinness extracted the very best of him for four seasons in which he was one of the deadliest finishers in the game.

After name checking the younger members of the Donegal panel, McFadden said: "The future of Donegal football is bright. They're going to be knocking on the door for Ulster titles for the next five, six, seven, eight years and the All-Ireland too, they'll not be far away, they'll be there or thereabouts all the time."

And asked if he would be there with them, he responded: "I think you know the answer to that question yourself now.

"That'll be it, absolutely, after 14 or 15 years. With those young fellas, that game is changing all the time.

"I suppose you'd like to play on forever but you have to move on at some stage and I was lucky that I had a couple of great years, particularly these last five or six years when I had success.

"It was probably good the way it happened for us with barren years for the first eight or nine years and whenever success came then at the end it was all the sweeter having waited so long.

"A lot of footballers go through their careers, Donegal footballers, without winning Ulster titles. Only one other team won an All-Ireland.

"It'd be nice to keep playing on forever but I have to be thankful that we had successful years there towards the end."

And with that, he swung his bag onto the bus and clambered on board for the long journey home, a part of the county team for the last time.

Everyone at Tyrone will hope and pray that captain Cavanagh doesn't join him in riding off into the sunset.

Belfast Telegraph

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