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Impressive Donegal end Tyrone's six-year Cup stranglehold

Donegal 1-16 Tyrone 1-12

By Declan Bogue

Donegal held Tyrone to a single point from play for the last 29 minutes of this often absorbing Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final, to end their six-year dominance of the pre-season competition.

Teams and managers will take their own interpretation of the result. Tyrone will easily brush it off, reasoning they had a line-up sprinkled with fringe players and played a style of football not seen since the turn of the century.

For Donegal's younger breed of players, especially those that appeared in the 12-point Ulster Championship semi-final whipping last summer, they will feel differently. More than a cup was brought home to the Hills on Saturday night.

What really counts of course, is when both sides meet in the league in a fortnight under Saturday night floodlights. Equipped with proper game plans, this game will bear little resemblance to this final.

The opening half was almost an advertisement of what Gaelic football can be at the highest level when all the choking tactical analysis is taken out of the equation.

Bearing in mind that these were two more or less fringe teams deployed, the skills were excellent. For example, Tyrone full-back Cathal McCarron sallied forth, played a one-two and lofted over with his left foot. Soon after, Frank McGlynn did the same for Donegal.

Daire O'Baoill - who was due to play the Ulster Under-21 club final the following day - showed he had lost little in his struggles to get back from injury with two early points and the torturing Ciaran Thompson gave Aidan McCrory early on led Mickey Harte to switch sweepers and place Padraig Hampsey on to the Glenties man.

The goals were a delight. Tyrone struck first when Conall McCann's handpass put Harry Loughran through and his goalscoring form was brought from club level with a finish along the floor.

Two minutes later Donegal struck back when Gillespie's despairing flick put Martin McElhinney through on goal and he chipped over Mickey O'Neill in the Tyrone nets with a gorgeous touch.

Tyrone might have two more goals but Ronan O'Neill's shot was lacking in venom with Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton dealing with it comfortably, and the same man was played in by Loughran and had a swipe blocked, but the ball was brought for a free for a tug on O'Neill, who converted it himself.

Donegal made a dash in front by playing long ball to the inside line, leaving them 1-9 to 1-6 ahead of the break. Mickey Harte dashed on to the field to get his players into a huddle at the break before making their way to the dressing room.

Any doubts of Harte's intention towards this final were answered by a raft of subs in the first 10 minutes of the second half, captain Matthew Donnelly, Cathal McShane and Peter Harte all being introduced in this period, but the biggest cheer belonged to the return of Donegal's Michael Murphy.

Murphy's leadership was shown in a beautiful point on the turn, and also the darker arts in halting Niall Sludden's gallop as the game went into the closing stages.

After opening the second period with a Declan McClure point, the Red Hands hit three consecutive points from the boot of Ronan O'Neill to draw level.

However, a trio of Niall O'Donnell points was to bring Donegal right back into the game and they made it rain with further efforts from Murphy from serious distance, Paul Brennan's excellent second point of the day and two Murphy frees.

While Harte upped the ante with his second half subs, his opposite number Declan Bonner matched him and by the end of the game Neil McGee was also on, aggravating a swarm of Tyrone forwards into a wrestling contest as the game slipped away.

It's getting to the point where both managers will trim their panels, so if the Dr McKenna Cup is indeed an audition for the National League then both have a few prospects.

The new look halfback line of Eamonn Doherty, Paul Brennan and O'Baoill was excellent and contributed four points from play. Odhran MacNiallais has rediscovered his appetite for the game and Mark McHugh showed glimpses of the talent that shone so bright in his All-Star winning season of 2012.

Tyrone will see Harry Loughran as a potential player to add some zip into a forward line that is in danger of becoming complacent, but they needs their established figures of Colm Cavanagh, Peter Harte and Matthew Donnelly to max out on their talent in the upcoming league games against Monaghan and Donegal.

TYRONE: M O'Neill; A McCrory, C McCarron 0-1, B Burns; M Cassidy, R McNabb, K McGeary 0-1; P Hampsey, B McDonnell; D McClure 0-1, H Loughran 1-1, C McCann 0-1, D McCurry 0-1, R McHugh, R O'Neill 0-6, 5f

Subs: M Donnelly for McClure, C McShane for Cassidy (42m), P Harte for McGeary (43m), HP McGeary for McCrory (50m), C Meyler for McDonnell (53m), N Sludden for Loughran (60m)

Yellow cards: K McGeary (31m), HP McGeary (63m), Donnelly (68m, 73)

Black cards: 0

Red cards: M Donnelly (73m)

DONEGAL: S Patton; S McMenamin, C Morrison, F McGlynn 0-1; E Doherty, P Brennan 0-2, D O'Baoill 0-2; O MacNiallais 0-1, H McFadden; C Thompson 0-1, M McElhinney 1-1, M McHugh; C McGonigle, S McBrearty, M O'Reilly 0-2, 1f

Subs: N O'Donnell 0-3 for McBreaty (25m), M Murphy 0-3, 2f, for McElhinney (42m), N Mullins for O'Reilly (45m), C Ward for McGlynn (52m), B McCole for McGonigle (64m), N McGee for Doherty (71m)

Yellow cards: O'Baoill (31m), Mullins (62m), Murphy (70m)

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

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