Donegal get Ulster campaign off to a win in feisty encounter
Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 1-10
The mere notion of a wet and windy Ballybofey on an Ulster championship afternoon would be enough to send any footballing purist running scared.
Throw in a Donegal side adept in the tactical smothering opponents, and a Tyrone team devoid of confidence firepower, and this preliminary round fixture shaped up like being a dogged, win at all costs, slugfest.
Instead it was open-ended, pulsating and intriguing. With the conditions deteriorating throughout and the breeze howling, 17,435 packed into this compact ground as two gritty old rivals served up an excellent dish of football with Donegal, ultimately, deserving this win.
To save their season, Tyrone had to change things and turn more offensive from their dismal NFL campaign. They did tweak things; Rory Brennan and Cathal McShane - two All-Ireland under 21 winners - started, and another debutante Padraig McNulty came on, but it was Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly that stood out for Mickey Harte's side. Both men attacked with gusto.
But Donegal attacked too. They began the brighter - and finished the steadier. That was enough to get them across the line.
With so many of their players around the middle standing over six foot tall, at times they looked too strong and physically imposing in key areas for their rivals. They were economical too - they landed three scores from three opportunities in the opening few minutes against the breeze.
But Tyrone put in some shift. And Darren McCurry's goal, after a lovely pass from Harte, caught the Donegal defence napping.
The pendulum swung and with the wily Sean Cavanagh growing more in the game Tyrone gained a foothold. Cavanagh hit a brace and brought his championship scoring tally to 1-131. Meanwhile, Donegal failed to score for 13 minutes.
Having trailed by four points, Tyrone then took the lead before break as Rory Gallagher's men lost their grip around the middle only for Martin McElhinney, prolific today, to nail a serious goal just on the stroke of half time. That rebound from an excellent Mickey O'Neill save gave his team a 1-8 (all from play) to 1-6 lead at the interval.
Tempers flared as the teams made their way off the pitch but that only rose the tempo for the second half. Donegal went for it by leaving Murphy and McBrearty in the full forward line but Tyrone had the game level four minutes into the second half.
The pace dropped from here and the sides were locked on 1-10 apiece after 55 minutes with Conor McAliskey hitting three cracking points.
The hard-working Michael Murphy steadied Donegal with three frees and despite losing Neil Gallagher to two yellow cards near the end those scores were enough to get them through to the next round of Ulster's undoubted group of death.
Sean Cavanagh also saw red and it was an undoubted ugly finish to a great game with players from both sides letting themselves down with their antics, but the enduring memory is a positive one with Tyrone coming close for a goal three times near the end.
It's a good omen for the championship.
M McElhinney 1- 2, M Murphy (3f), P McBrearty 0-2, C Toye 0-2, C McFadden 0-2, F McGlynn 0-1, K Lacey 0-1,
S Cavanagh 0-4 (3f), D McCurry 1-0, C McAliskey 0-3, Justin McMahon 0-1, Mattie Donnelly 0-1, R McNamee 0-1,
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Martin McElhinney; Martin O'Reilly, Odhrán Mac Niallais, Christy Toye; Patrick McBrearty, Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden.
Subs; Mark McHugh for Martin O'Reilly (39), David Walsh for Martin McElhinney (71).
Tyrone: Michael O'Neill; Aidan McCrory, Ronan McNamee, Cathal McCarron; Ronan McNabb, Justin McMahon, Peter Harte; Colm Cavanagh, Rory Brennan; Cathal McShane, Matthew Donnelly, Barry Tierney; Darren McCurry, Sean Cavanagh, Connor McAliskey.
Subs: P McNulty for C McShane (41), Tiernan McCann for Barry Tierney (55), Mark Bradley for Darren McCurry (63), Ronan O'Neill for Conor McAliskey (69).
Ref: J McQuillan (Cavan)