Tyrone hold nerve against Donegal
Tyrone 1-13 Donegal 0-12
The guard of honour was granted for the All-Ireland champions, but from then on, it was strictly business as Tyrone laid their stall out in this four-point victory.
A crowd of almost 10,000 watched the home side finally get some deliverance and break the spell that Donegal in the Jim McGuinness-era has held over them.
The flavour of the contest was spicy enough. Fourteen yellow cards in total, a penalty save and two red cards, along with flashpoints and some nasty-looking grappling on the floor gave us a tantalising view of what may transpire — be that in Clones or in Ballybofey — on May 26th when they meet in the Ulster Championship.
Such games are usually determined by a twist of fate, a slip here, a handpass astray there. Instead, the penalty awarded to Donegal just on the stroke of half-time was an enormous moment.
Ross Wherity drove for the goal and was hauled down by a flailing tackle from Ryan McKenna. Michael Murphy hit his effort firmly, but Niall Morgan's strong leap and hand to his right kept it out. Justin McMahon was first to the rebound and Murphy arrived a fraction too late and his boot caught the defender.
Tyrone players protested. Rory Gallagher sprinted onto the field and got jostled. Neil Gallagher gripped Morgan's collar and threw him to the floor. Referee Joe McQuillan handed out the yellow cards to Gallagher and Murphy — banishing the Donegal captain from the game following his earlier caution.
Two points, and a man up at half-time, Tyrone were in a good position.
“The penalty save was a big bearing, even if Mickey Murphy hadn't have been sent off, the fact that penalty was saved would have sent us in with a real boost and a spring in our step,” reflected Mickey Harte said.
Donegal followed their by-now time-honoured tradition of keeping their opponents waiting on the field for an extended half-time cuppa, and shortly after they cut the host's lead to the minimum.
A run from Mark Donnelly out of defence, and an exchange of passes put Stephen O'Neill through. He rounded Paul Durcan and although drive was blocked by Neil McGee, it still looped into the net with Conor Clarke charging in for insurance.
Half-time substitute Aidan Cassidy made his presence felt at this point by winning breaks and catching a kickout. A loose pass in the Donegal defence was seized on him and he won a free.
When it was moved on for dissent, goalkeeper Niall Morgan stepped up to kick his third point of the day, having converted two ‘45's earlier.
Donegal moved Neil Gallagher out from full-forward to better effect and they began to gain primary possession. They also had to graft to get their scores against a loaded Tyrone defence, surviving on a ration of Colm McFadden frees, but it wasn't ever going to be enough.
Manager Jim McGuinness was sanguine in defeat afterwards, stating, “It’s always good to see somebody up close, I suppose, and you see players that you didn’t know before, and they’re on your radar now.
“From our own point of view, we knew where we were at before the game and we know where we’re at now.”
Two late saves from Morgan — one when he comfortably dealt with a high lob sent in by Rory Kavanagh and another point-blank one from Colm McFadden near the end, saw Tyrone home.
There was even time for a bit of afters between Stephen O'Neill and Neil McGee.
There's animosity between these two. That's what makes it. Roll on late May.
TYRONE: N Morgan (0-3, 2x '45's, 1f); 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 (Capt) (1-2, 1f), Mark Donnelly (0-1)
Subs: M Penrose for McAliskey (31m), A Cassidy for Murphy (half-time), C Cavanagh for McNiece (55m), C Gormley for Justin McMahon, R O'Neill for Mark Donnelly (63m)
DONEGAL: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; A Thompson (0-1), F McGlynn, M McElhinney; N Gallagher, R Kavanagh; M McHugh, L McLoone (0-1), R Bradley; C McFadden (0-5, 5f), M Murphy (Capt) (0-3, 1x '45'), R Wherity (0-1)
Subs: P McBrearty (0-1) for McElhinney (half-time), R McHugh for Bradley (48m), D Molloy for M McHugh (65m)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)