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Tyrone 'dug deep' to find 'hurt' that inspired win over Donegal, says boss

Donegal 1-14 Tyrone 0-23

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Final march: Tyrone’s Conn Kilpatrick celebrates after the game with Conor McKenna. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Final march: Tyrone’s Conn Kilpatrick celebrates after the game with Conor McKenna. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Michael Murphy. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Michael Murphy. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

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Final march: Tyrone’s Conn Kilpatrick celebrates after the game with Conor McKenna. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Tyrone never had a greater chance to beat Donegal than the situation they found themselves in at half-time.

After five minutes, Neil McGee had to be carried off after a heavy knock in claiming a loose ball in the crowd. Before half-time, Michael Murphy had hit the post with a penalty and then been sent off after adding a black card to his earlier yellow for catching Kieran McGeary with a stray kick intended for a loose ball.

Donegal also had an even better penalty shout turned down a few minutes after the first when Frank Burns upended Michael Langan taking a shot at goal.

A point up at the break, under a baking sun hanging over Enniskillen, they outscored Donegal 0-14 to 1-6 from there to the finish.

It’s trite to say that the dismissal of their captain spelled the end for Donegal. But it is rooted in logic. No team rely quite as much on their captain to elevate them from a decent side, to a team capable of winning honours.

After standing over the penalty, his attempt pinged off the outside of the left post and wide, Kieran McGeary then pointing in the next play to produce a four-point swing and keep a point within Donegal.

A minute before half-time, disaster struck for Donegal. A ball broke down and when Murphy went to draw on it, he hit nothing but McGeary’s legs, earning him a black card for a trip, and with it a red.

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“That’s the reality of it but there is so much chaotic stuff that happens,” said Tyrone joint manager Feargal Logan afterwards.

“Murphy is a man mountain of a footballer in every respect and to lose him was a massive blow to Donegal, but we shipped a couple of black cards today that left us down to 14 men at times and the penalty shaved the outside of the post.

“So, listen, I could be sitting here on the total flip side of the coin but I do know there is a group of players with ambition and they have suffered hurt at the hands of Donegal in the past and I knew somewhere deep down that could be dug out and we got a bit of that out of them today.”

Donegal manager Declan Bonner couldn’t hide his disappointment.

“Without having had a chance to look at it, to me it wasn’t a sending off,” he said.

“I chatted with Michael and he’s very disappointed. Some days decisions go for you. Today, I think Joe got a number of decisions wrong but I’m not going to blame the referee for it. These things happen in Championship football.”

After the defeat in Ballybofey last winter, and indeed the last few defeats for Tyrone to the hands of their rivals, perhaps they were due a slice of luck too.

With Mickey Harte watching on in his role as pundit for BBCNI, it wasn’t as if this was a different Tyrone team or the philosophy has shifted significantly.

During the last number of seasons Gaelic football has been evolving and by the evidence of this weekend, ripening.

When conditions are this favourable, then self-expression becomes a possibility not always available on the heavy pitches of winter.

But they thought their way through things here too.

Conor Meyler is the go-to man to man-mark Ryan McHugh and he nullified the Kilcar man while scoring a point himself. Kieran McGeary had his best game to date, scoring three points.

When Logan and Dooher were able to unload Cathal McShane and Conor McKenna from the bench, it freed up Matthew Donnelly into a deeper position and he began to break defensive lines with the kind of form that brought two All-Stars in consecutive years.

Darren McCurry hit seven points, Tiernan McCann snapped up three points from play, each of them inventive and Niall Sludden also chalked up a trio of points from play as the Red Hands began to look a little like their old selves.

Donegal needed a few things to go right for them and they produced a goal of sparkling quality through the hands of Hugh McFadden, Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Ryan McHugh to set up Caolan McGonigle’s major on 39 minutes and they kept in with a series of frees.

Eventually though, the needle tipped into the red zone. And while Tyrone had to play two periods of 10 minutes down to 14 men with black cards to Brennan and McGeary, these things count.

In general, there is a sense of the changing of the guard in Donegal. Michael Murphy turns 32 this summer, Neil McGee has been on the go since 2005, Paddy McGrath made his debut against Down in Ballybofey in 2010 and didn’t make the matchday squad here.

Nothing lasts forever and the remnants of the team that won the All-Ireland in 2012 will soon all be gone.

Apart from Murphy. He’ll be there for a few years yet.

It’s back to an Ulster final for Tyrone, their first since they walloped Down in the 2017 decider, and it will be a repeat of the 2010 final when they beat Monaghan in Seamus McEnaney’s last year of his first stint as manager.

It’s already a good summer’s work for the new management of Logan and Dooher.

Four weeks ago they were enduring a torturous journey home after conceding six goals to Kerry in the league semi-final.

Now they look much more assured though everything has to be taken in the context of the Murphy sending off.

“Of course, Tyrone has a deep-rooted tradition in Gaelic football and it’s not lost on Brian or myself when you take on the responsibility,” commented Logan. “People want a Tyrone team that represents them well, so that’s all we are trying to do in every respect. Everybody who has soldiered for years.

“Some of us are living off the glow of All-Irelands maybe, but some of us remember well before that.”

DONEGAL: S Patton; B McCole, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh, O McFadden-Ferry, P Mogan 0-1; H McFadden, C McGonigle 1-0; C Thompson 0-1, N O’Donnell 0-2, M Langan 0-2, 1f; P McBrearty 0-4, 2f, M Murphy 0-2f, J Brennan 0-2

Subs: S McMenamin for McGee (5 mins), P Brennan for McFadden-Ferry (45 mins), O MacNiallais for H McFadden (46 mins), E McHugh for J Brennan (62 mins), A McClean for Mogan (70 mins)

Red card: Murphy (34 mins)

TYRONE: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; R Brennan, F Burns 0-1, P Harte 0-1; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; K McGeary 0-3, M O’Neill, C Meyler 0-1; D McCurry 0-7, 3f, M Donnelly 0-2, N Sludden 0-3

Subs: T McCann 0-3, for Brennan (HT), C McKenna 0-1, for Kilpatrick (46 mins), B McDonnell for Kennedy (52 mins), C McShane 0-1f, for M O’Neill (62 mins), N Kelly for McKernan (67 mins)

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)

Man of the match: Matthew Donnelly (Tyrone)

Match rating: 8/10


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