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Don't judge Tyrone on defeat in battle of Ballybofey, warns Harte

Tyrone 0-12 Donegal 0-6

By Chris McNulty

This has become one of the GAA's most fierce and intense rivalries and it was impressive, imperious Donegal who drew blood on Saturday night.

The daggers were drawn for battle in Ballybofey, where Donegal confirmed the notion that they're ready to reaffirm their status as contenders through a six-point win.

They have met in five of the last six Ulster Championships and, provided they both get over their first hurdles this year, could meet in two months' time again.

It is plain that they don't much like one another.

Justin McMahon spent a large portion of the evening eyeballing Michael Murphy, but the Omagh man was withdrawn.

A booking, Mickey Harte reckoned, had McMahon on a tightrope and he was called ashore with the subsequent jostling match contributing to nine additional minutes being added on at the end.

It was not a night for the faint of heart and neither gave an inch, but it was Donegal who took the initiative to stretch their unbeaten run in Ballybofey to 17 League and Championship games.

They remained the more composed all through the various battles that were being played across a soaking stage that had a howling wind blowing in all directions. Still without Patrick McBrearty and Karl Lacey, Donegal are encouraged and, dare it be suggested in March, excited by their early gazes at the crystal ball.

Ciaran Thompson helped himself to three fine scores in the first half on another outing that demonstrated his capabilities at this level.

With Murphy deep and dictating the play and with the likes of Ryan McHugh, Eoin McHugh and Martin O'Reilly scurrying forward at any given opportunity, Donegal got on top with five points in a row - including a rare score by Paddy McGrath - to lead 0-9 to 0-4 at half-time.

"They played with all the quality and all the guile that we've been accustomed to see them do," Harte said.

But the Tyrone manager insists that summer could bring a different narrative.

He added: "We would suggest that Ulster is always as hard as its ever been and anyone that would suggest at this stage that somebody has a right to win it; they would be not very well aware of Ulster football."

In their last five meetings in Championship football, Donegal have won four. Tyrone held sway in last year's Ulster final but this felt like a significant statement by a determined Donegal.

"It will be another titanic tussle if we do meet," Donegal manager Rory Gallagher said.

DONEGAL: MA McGinley; P McGrath (0-1), N McGee, E Doherty; E Gallagher, F McGlynn (0-1), P Brennan; C Thompson (0-3), M Murphy (0-1f); M O'Reilly, E McHugh (0-1), R McHugh (0-2); M Carroll, H McFadden (0-2), J Brennan. Subs: C Mulligan (0-1) for McGlynn (h-t), M McHugh for McGrath (bc, 56), M McElhinney for McFadden (64), M Langan for P.Brennan (65), B McCole for J.Brennan (70), S McBrearty for E.McHugh (70+5).

TYRONE: M O'Neill; C McShane, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, J McMahon, R Brennan (0-1); C Cavanagh, D McClure; N Sludden, K McGeary, P Harte (0-2); M Bradley, S Cavanagh (0-3, 2f), M Donnelly. Subs: C Meyler for McShane (h-t), P Hampsey for McClure (h-t), Aidan McCrory for McMahon (45), R O'Neill for Brennan (53), J Munroe for McCarron (59).

REFEREE: D Coldrick (Meath).

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