Saturday 29 April 2017

Tyrone hit 'Brick' wall in decisive last act

Donegal 2-6 Tyrone 0-9

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

TYRONE and Armagh's 12-year stranglehold on the Ulster football title was finally ended when two second-half Donegal goals ousted the defending champions in Clones yesterday.

A 66th-minute strike by Colm Fadden and a second in injury-time by substitute Dermot 'Brick' Molloy sent the Tir Chonaills through to their first Ulster final in five years, where Derry now stand between them and their first provincial title since their famous All-Ireland breakthrough year in 1992.

Their late smash and grab finally saw off a legendary Tyrone side, who certainly don't owe their supporters anything. But, as they reflect on how their Ulster three-in-a-row hopes crumbled, they will always wonder about a series of 'what ifs'.

What if Kevin Hughes hadn't been sent off for getting two yellow cards within a minute on the hour?

What if they hadn't lost full-back Joe McMahon to concussion after 50 minutes? McMahon had been doing particularly well on Donegal's big danger man Michael Murphy.

And what if Peter Harte hadn't missed an easy free to equalise three minutes from the end of normal time?

Scoreable

The referee had made it particularly scoreable by bringing it forward 13 metres for 'dissent' and it should have swung the momentum back Tyrone's way.

But Harte, who had missed a similar free earlier, dropped it short, letting Donegal off the hook at a vital time.

It was still a game with 'draw' written all over it and substitute Martin Penrose equalised just before it moved into four minutes of injury-time. It was the 74th minute, with Donegal on the attack, when Patrick McBrearty overcooked a pass to Murphy and Tyrone's Martin Swift intercepted it.

But then, when Murphy tackled him, he fatally coughed it up. Murphy laid it through to the unmarked Molloy and, rather than tapping the ball over the bar for a one-point lead, the 'Brick' found the net in style to seal Donegal's memorable victory.

There was something poignant in watching Jim McGuinness' young tyros pass it around nine times to run down the clock; reducing this once-infallible Tyrone team to frustrated bystanders. By then, veterans like Stephen O'Neill, Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan and Owen Mulligan had all been called ashore, a particularly telling fact.

Cavanagh and O'Neill were their best attackers, but their inability to break down Donegal's defence -- just three scores after the break -- indicated that the great team that Mickey Harte built has finally run out of road.

They're not out yet, of course, and have drawn Longford in their first qualifier campaign in three years. As Harte noted wryly: "The last time we were there (qualifiers), it didn't do us any harm, so maybe that's a good omen!"

But the paucity of their attack yesterday, even allowing for Donegal's excellent defence, indicates that however far they go, it will be the dying embers still glowing.

And yet, as Harte agreed, this game was lost in the first half, particularly the 10 minutes before half-time.

Mulligan replaced Martin Penrose before throw-in (delayed 25 minutes because the U-21 hurling curtain-raiser went to extra-time), yet Tyrone looked unfazed, rattling off four unanswered points in the opening 12 minutes, before 17-year-old corner- forward McBrearty opened Donegal's scoring from an impossible angle.

He was kept very quiet after that by Swift on a day when defenders from both sides completely dominated their men.

But Tyrone shot six wides in the first half hour and missed a good goal chance when Anthony Thompson blocked O'Neill just before half-time.

Donegal, crucially, got three unanswered points, including a particularly inspirational one from 45 metres from Kevin Cassidy, to go in just two down (0-4 to 0-6). As Harte noted, his side scored six from 18 first-half chances while Donegal got four of five. "That's the game in a nutshell, you don't need any other statistics," Harte said.

"They were much more economical, we weren't and the longer the game went on that way, then the chance of a goal was always going to be significant and they got that first goal.

"The sending-off didn't help us, but we'd have done well to struggle to a draw," he admitted.

Donegal boss Jim McGuinness was typically philosophical afterwards, but said that taking Tyrone's scalp in their third championship win in a row was a big win for his side.

His introduction of Michael Hegarty kick-started his team and he wasn't afraid to take off Leo McLoone either, after bringing him off the bench.

His brother-in-law Colm McFadden, well shackled to that point by Conor Gormley, gave Donegal only their first lead of the game in the 66th minute, when he shot to the net with his weaker right foot after cleverly weighing up his options.

But, as McGuinness noted, his side took a lot of wrong ones earlier when "it was vintage Tyrone, the way they took the game to us, stretching the play (laterally) all the time". "To go in two points down was a bonus for us, considering how we'd played," he said.

He said getting his players into the dressing-room was as important as the scores they got before the break.

"We needed to get back to what had got us this far, to forget about Tyrone, and the occasion and what was at stake. We just start playing the way we can," McGuinness said.

"We had to change what we were doing and Colm and Dermot's composure was excellent, considering the pressure.

"It wasn't a great game. But it was a real pressure-cooker for the players and to come through that and get the right result, I hope that'll stand to us and now we can kick on."

Scorers -- Donegal: C McFadden 1-1 (1f), D Molloy 1-0, M Murphy 0-2 (1f), K Cassidy, K Rafferty and P McBrearty 0-1 each.

Tyrone: S O'Neill 0-2, S Cavanagh 0-2 (1f), P Jordan, B Dooher, O Mulligan, M Penrose and P Harte (f) 0-1 each.

Donegal -- P Durcan 7; K Lacey 8, N McGee 8, P McGrath 7; F McGlynn 6, A Thompson 7, K Cassidy 8; R Kavanagh 7, K Rafferty 7; M Elhinney 5, M McHugh 7, R Bradley 5; P McBrearty 6, M Murphy (capt) 7, C McFadden 7. Subs: M Hegarty 8 for McElhinney (24), L McLoone 5 for Bradley (45), D Molloy 7 for McLoone (63).

Tyrone -- P McConnell 7; M Swift 7, Joe McMahon 8, R McMenamin 7; D Harte 8, C Gormley 7, P Jordan 8; K Hughes 6, S Cavanagh 8; B Dooher (capt) 6, B McGuigan 6, P Harte 7; O Mulligan 6, S O'Neill 7, M Donnelly 5. Subs: Justin McMahon 6 for Joe McMahon (inj, 50), Penrose 7 for Mulligan (52), T McGuigan 5 for Brian McGuigan (63), A Cassidy 5 for O'Neill (63), C Cavanagh for Dooher (69).

Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan).

Irish Independent

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