Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Five points that fuel bitter Tyrone/Donegal rivalry

HOT SPOT: Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann, Ronan McNamee and Donegal’s Odhran Mac Niallais square up. Photo: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
HOT SPOT: Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann, Ronan McNamee and Donegal’s Odhran Mac Niallais square up. Photo: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb isn't just the title of U2's typically disappointing, plodding eleventh studio album, but also a valid question of dousing the flames of passion that spill over whenever Tyrone and Donegal meet in Championship football.

This rivalry has developed into anything as fierce/spiteful (delete as per your tolerance levels for this kind of thing) as we have seen in Gaelic games, teetering at times on the verge of all-out violence. Here we look at the key areas that are likely to cause the flare-ups during this Sunday's Ulster semi-final.

1. The Michael Murphy conundrum

In their 2015 meeting in Ballybofey, Tyrone defender Justin McMahon simply faced Murphy all evening, holding him back, down or close as he spent all his time engaging in a wrestling match with no concern for the ball. It took 63 minutes for referee Joe McQuillan to eventually book McMahon, to one of the biggest cheers of the day from the Donegal support.

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher said afterwards, "I felt that while the officials did a good job, Michael was targeted. That is the way it is. It is up to other people to deal with it. Michael comes in for a lot of attention off the ball which isn't allowed."

McMahon was not given that role in last year's final. It was instead handed to Cathal McCarron, who held Murphy scoreless from play while drilling over a point himself.

2. Gamesmanship/sledging

The history of sledging between these two is indeed murky, with lingering resentment over claims and counter-claims made in the wake of the 2015 Ulster Minor Championship meeting.

For the finest example of gamesmanship within the rules, in 2013 Tyrone brought Niall Morgan with them as a new weapon - a goalkeeper that could hit long-range frees.

Manager Jim McGuinness countered this by placing three huge men in front of Morgan's frees, all with their arms upright, thereby obscuring Morgan's view of the posts.

As for sledging, after last year's final Morgan claimed, "When we were going in at half-time we heard someone from the Donegal side shout, 'We'll beat this team of individuals.' We're no team of individuals. We're a massive team, we're a unit. We go everywhere together, we do everything together."

Referee David Coldrick has a huge tolerance for this kind of conduct, though he does earn respect from players for not adopting an authoritarian approach.

3. Crowd participation

In 2013, Donegal came to Healy Park for a National League game.

Michael Murphy missed a penalty and followed through on his follow-up. When he was dismissed with a red card, he took pelters of abuse from the crowd. After a fractious game in which Tyrone edged home, the reigning Player of the Year Karl Lacey was spat on by a supporter, prompting Mickey Harte to issue an apology in the Donegal dressing room.

While both sets of players don't appear to have any love for each other, the same can be said of the fans.

4. Maor Foirne Bib Wars

Last year, Monaghan objected very strongly to the level of on-pitch involvement of Donegal's selector, Maxi Curran, who must have clocked up an impressive 10k at least while running onto the pitch to deliver instructions - one of those runs also took him across the line of vision of Monaghan freetaker Conor McManus.

Tyrone's selector Gavin Devlin has had a number of spiky confrontations along the sideline himself, so this is one sub-plot that is worth keeping an eye on.

5. Tunnel vision

At half-time of the 2015 meeting, the players made for the narrow tunnel of Ballybofey at the same time, which resulted in a prolonged period of pushing, shoving and general nastiness and members of both backrooms getting unnecessarily involved.

Mickey Harte said afterwards, "It's easy for us who are observing the game to be well in control of our emotions, but the people who are out there in the thick of it, they just might not be in control of it. So it took some of us to try and settle them down. I don't think it was going to develop into anything too rowdy."

Thankfully, the Ulster Council have got on top of this issue. While teams go to make their way off the pitch at half-time, the friendly steward Cuthbert Donnelly always keeps one set of players back, thereby preventing any bottleneck of players through the claustrophobic Clones tunnel.

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