In what was to prove a seminal moment in last year’s All-Ireland football championship, the outstretched leg of Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan deflected a goal-bound shot from Tyrone’s Martin Penrose to safety in the closing seconds.
Just how central Durcan’s athleticism was to Donegal’s historic All-Ireland triumph was subsequently articulated by manager Jim McGuinness when reviewing his side’s summer odyssey.
“Without doubt the match against Tyrone was our toughest on the way to ‘Sam’ and that save by Paul Durcan was to prove an absolutely crucial element in making 2012 such a memorable year for us,” admitted McGuinness.
If frustration was the name of the game for 30-year-old Penrose on that occasion, then optimism underpins his preparations for Sunday’s renewal of rivalry between the two counties when they meet at Healy Park in an Allianz League Division One encounter that will have all the trappings of a Championship extravaganza.
Unbeaten to date this year and fired by a desire to reverse the result of that Championship encounter last year, Tyrone are bristling with determination, brimming with anticipation and bolstered by an impeccable recent track record as they prepare do battle with McGuinness’ men.
And Penrose, who won an inter-provincial medal with Ulster last Sunday in Croke Park, perhaps best epitomises the Red Hands’ approach.
“We felt we were unfortunate to lose that Ulster semi-final last year because we had dominated the first half, but Donegal managed to close out the game very efficiently,” he said. “Sure, I would have loved to have seen my shot go in, but it wasn’t to be.”
Now having beaten Down and Mayo, Tyrone will have home advantage for the first time in the league on Sunday and Penrose suggests that they could not have more attractive visitors than the reigning All-Ireland champions.
“We’re looking forward to playing Donegal again because we feel we can match them,” insists the Carrickmore clubman.
“They beat Down in their last outing and will come to us seeking to get a run of results going so we have to be ready for them.
“Our manager Mickey Harte is urging the fans to come out in big numbers and I know from the buzz surrounding the fixture that Healy Park will be a real cauldron on Sunday. But that’s the kind of atmosphere that players want to perform in. This helps to up the tempo and create a special excitement.”
Penrose, Peter Harte and skipper Stephen O’Neill, along with Sean Cavanagh and Conor McAliskey will be key figures in a Tyrone side anxious to extend its unbeaten record since the start of the year. Having already claimed the Dr McKenna Cup, the league title tops their short-term shopping list.
“We just want to keep winning. We are looking no further than Sunday although we recognise that we have very big games looming against Dublin, Kildare, Kerry and Cork in the league and you can’t get any better preparation for the championship than that,” said Penrose.