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Tyrone can upset history books and pip Donegal to semi-final spot, insists Donnelly

 

By Declan Bogue

Fears that the final week of the Super8s series of the All-Ireland Football Championship would become irrelevant have proven unfounded in Tyrone and Donegal, who will line up for a winner-takes-all clash in Ballybofey on August 5.

The permutations are simple. Tyrone need at least a draw, with their superior scoring difference putting them in pole position for second place - and a spot in the All-Ireland semi-finals - in their group behind Dublin. Lose and Donegal claim it.

Tickets have been on sale since the end of last week and it would seem a virtual certainty that Pairc MacCumhaill will be filled to capacity.

Donegal also have the psychological edge of having the game on their patch, a ground they have not been beaten at in the league or Championship since March 13, 2010 when Down won a National League match.

They beat Tyrone there in two bad-tempered Championship clashes in 2013 and 2015. In fact, the Red Hands have not beaten Donegal there in the Championship since 1973.

That kind of history isn't lost on Tyrone captain Matthew Donnelly, who stated: "It's well documented how much pride they place on Ballybofey and it is a fortress in all senses of the word for them.

"It's a massive task, as tough as it was to try to beat the All-Ireland champions (on Saturday night). It is going to take another massive effort and that's all we can do, give it a massive effort."

Tyrone narrowed the gap to Dublin from a 12-point loss in last year's semi-final to three points in Saturday's Phase Two game, but Donnelly delivered a sober assessment of their shortcomings.

"We went out with the intent of winning the game and we just came up short," he said. "A lot of our skill execution let us down and that is the most disappointing thing. We are still in the hunt and we are going to Ballybofey. It is going to be another test. We are still there, so there is no point in being too downbeat."

All day in Omagh, the place hummed with the influx of thousands of Dublin supporters, creating a special atmosphere in the town. It was the climax of a week of build-up to one of the most unique occasions in the history of the football Championship.

It was refreshing and novel, and that didn't go entirely unnoticed by the players.

"There's no sense in saying it was like any other game," Donnelly was quick to acknowledge.

"There was a bit off the back of last year, because I remember leaving the stadium embarrassed last year. There was a lot of hurt and I suppose we were keen that that didn't repeat itself. That was probably playing on some players' minds, there's no point in saying otherwise.

"We knew we weren't as far off them, we knew we could give them a game and we did. But we are not in the business of moral victories."

Still, Tyrone will have been encouraged. They now know they have what it takes to look the champions in the eye and survive the traditional final quarter onslaught inflicted by Dublin on opposition teams.

"I suppose they are renowned for the impact their bench has, but I think a lot of our boys trumped that impact with a lot of massive plays on the home straight," said Donnelly.

"You expend a huge amount of energy playing that way for 70 minutes so you need that impact off the bench, and we had it. We are going to need it the next day too."

He added: "It's a bit of a contrast in terms of how you felt when you played against them last year.

"We have full belief in our squad and in ourselves, and we knew we weren't as bad as last year.

"We will go back on Tuesday night, the same as we have every Tuesday night, and look at things that maybe let us down in our skill execution, and we will look to rectify that the next day out."

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