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Tyrone losing their grip


Goal getter: Donegal’s Ryan McHugh slots home the game’s only goal against Tyrone yesterday in Ballybofey

Goal getter: Donegal’s Ryan McHugh slots home the game’s only goal against Tyrone yesterday in Ballybofey

Lorcan Doherty

Goal getter: Donegal’s Ryan McHugh slots home the game’s only goal against Tyrone yesterday in Ballybofey

A bit of house-keeping first. In terms of survival, Donegal are now safe with one game remaining against Mayo.

Tyrone are in a different place. Seven weeks out from these two meeting again at the same venue in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship, they are in trouble.

Rather fortuitously, they can still save their season if they can beat Kerry in the final game of the league by two points. But, as Mickey Harte smiled ruefully and said: "To beat Kerry by two points, that's not really an easy thing to do either. The way we played today, we wouldn't have great optimism to do that."

He also said this: "It is a very, very disappointing performance and I said to the players afterwards it was as bad a performance as I've been involved in with the Tyrone team over all the time that I've been involved - at any level and at any age.

"That's where we're at at the moment so that's the baseline where we're starting from for next week and seven weeks' time."

The thing that should be noted here is that he said something eerily similar after their defeat to Kerry in last year's league.

Harte is right to be downcast. The bare statistics are grim. Tyrone scored two points from play across 72 minutes of football. They scored only three points in each half. They went 33 minutes without a score. It echoes previous failings against Donegal.

And without Sean Cavanagh from the start and Niall Morgan having to exit proceedings after 20 minutes with a quad problem, Tyrone were also lacking their main scoring threats.

In contrast to their fatigued performance against Monaghan three weeks ago, Donegal looked a completely different team. They had their defensive pressing game in excellent fettle, with Michael Murphy forcing several turnovers himself.

When they did win ball, the transition from defence to attack was rapid, with players running clever angles all day long, while the Tyrone defence lacked any real bite.

When dead ball opportunities arose, the Donegal captain Murphy was nothing short of phenomenal. In the second minute he kicked a free over from over 50 yards, following a rash challenge by Conor Clarke.

Twenty minutes later, Ronan McNamee was coming out of defence but ill-advisedly tried to pick a path between Martin O'Reilly and Paddy McBrearty. When he was blown up for overcarrying, Murphy kicked over from a distance in the region of 55 yards.

By that point, the home team were already disappearing over the horizon, such is the difficulty teams have in reigning in a Donegal lead.

A hammer-blow came with three minutes of the first half left. Frank McGlynn shot for a point, it fell down off the post into Hugh McFadden's arms and although he was swallowed up, the ball squirted out to the goal-hungry Ryan McHugh to tap home and leave the half-time score 1-9 to 0-3.

Cavanagh was introduced at half-time, and a few more subs came on but Donegal were also to edge the second half.

The Tyrone captain was singled out by some Donegal players to chop down and Eamonn McGee was booked soon into the second half for an off-the-ball tangle with Cavanagh.

As Cavanagh attempted to make a rare run through the point of Donegal's defence, Michael Murphy committed a pull-down offence on him, leaving referee Joe McQuillan no option but to send him off on a black card.

This latest offence means Murphy will serve a one-game suspension against Mayo next Sunday - seven weeks before we reconvene back here. Is it already a foregone conclusion?

Donegal: M Boyle; F McGlynn 0-1, N McGee 0-1, E McGee; R McHugh 1-1, K Lacey, E Doherty; N Gallagher, M McElhinney 0-2; M O'Reilly, O MacNiallais 0-1, C Toye; P McBrearty 0-1, 1f, M Murphy 0-6, 5f, H McFadden. Subs: C McFadden for N Gallagher (57m), M McHugh for R McHugh (68m), G McFadden for N McGee (69m), D Walsh for O Reilly (70m). Yellow cards: N McGee (33m), E McGee (38m). Black cards: Murphy (60m, replaced by A Thompson. Red cards: 0

Tyrone: N Morgan; J McMahon, R McNamee, C McCarron; C Clarke, T McCann, R McNabb; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; A McCrory, D McCurry 0-1 1f, P Harte 0-2. 1f; R O'Neill 0-1, M Donnelly, C McAliskey 0-1, 1f. Subs: S Fox for Morgan (20m), S Cavanagh 0-1, 1f, for O'Neill (half-time), C McCann and PJ Lavery for McNulty and McAliskey (40m), R McKenna for Clarke (43m), P Hughes for C Cavanagh (61m). Yellow cards: Clarke (2m), McCarron (46m). Black cards: 0. Red cards: 0

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).Attendance: 8,500

Belfast Telegraph