Thursday 27 April 2017

Red Hand tied up yet again by defiant Donegal

Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 1-10

Sean Cavanagh attempts to chase down Karl Lacey of Donegal during the Ulster SFC clash in Ballybofey SPORTSFILE
Sean Cavanagh attempts to chase down Karl Lacey of Donegal during the Ulster SFC clash in Ballybofey SPORTSFILE
Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan in action against Tyrone’s Conor McAliskey during yesterday’s Ulster SFC clash STEPHEN McCARTHY / SPORTSFILE
Donegal players Frank McGlynn, Michael Murphy and Mark McHugh in conversation during the game
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Donegal's capacity to increase Tyrone's frustration to unbearable levels continues to gather momentum.

For the fourth time in five seasons, Mickey Harte planned meticulously for the Donegal challenge, only to see his team suffer the same fate as in 2011, '12 and '13.

Tyrone scored a goal this time - something they failed to do in the three previous clashes - but it wasn't enough to unhinge Donegal, whose enterprising start and tightly calibrated finish opened up the avenue to an Ulster quarter-final clash with Armagh on June 14.

Donegal scored 0-6 in the first 14 minutes and 0-3 in the final 14 minutes, periods which yielded just a single goal for Tyrone. The Red Hand boys won the intervening 42 minutes by 0-10 to 1-4, but it should have been by a bigger margin, which goes some way to explaining why they once again left Ballybofey empty-handed.

Their failure to score in the final quarter was even more important, while missed chances from frees also contributed significantly to their problems.

Of course, Donegal will feel that were it not for a fine performance by Tyrone goalkeeper Michael O'Neill, they would have secured victory far more easily.

Conversely, Tyrone will point to a reflex save by Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan late on and the intervention of the crossbar to keep out a Colm Cavanagh flick as examples of close calls which went against them.

And right at the end, Mattie Donnelly whizzed a drive just wide of the post as Tyrone pressed desperately for the equalising goal.

By then, both sides were a man short, Donegal having lost midfielder, Neil Gallagher to a second yellow card in the 64th minute, and Sean Cavanagh following him to the dug-out two minutes later on a black card offence.

He had been booked earlier, so no replacement was allowed. Gallagher and Cavanagh had been important influences up to then but the latter's departure was the bigger loss as Tyrone were trailing by three points at the time.

No team protects a lead better than Donegal and while they had a few narrow escapes in the final minutes, their defensive system held solid.

With both sides basing their approach on strict security, it was always going to be day when parts of the pitch were as traffic-jammed as the roads out of Ballybofey afterwards, while large tracts were sparsely populated.

That, in turn, led to inevitable flashpoints, which prompted referee, Joe McQuillan to show 11 yellow cards (Donegal 7, Tyrone 4). The sulphurous atmosphere spilled off the pitch as the teams headed for the dressing-rooms at the end of the first half, with players and assorted others from both teams becoming involved in an incident which should be of concern to the Ulster Council.

McQuillan kept tight control of the game, but was lenient on over-carrying, perhaps making allowances for the wet, windy conditions.

He also made some dubious calls on the advantage rule, allowing too much time to pass between the foul and the whistle on a few occasions.

Indeed, Tyrone had genuine grounds for complaint about the free which Michael Murphy pointed in the 56th minute to give Donegal a lead that they retained all the way to the finish. The gap between the foul (if indeed it was an offence at all) and the whistle seemed unusually long.

Remarkably, it was Murphy's first point of the day, and while he added two more (free and '45'), it was not one of his better games.

But then, Justin McMahon virtually lived in his boots from start to finish, often turning his back to the play to ensure that he remained in Murphy's way all the time.

It's a joyless way to play football, but will be seen as justified as it prevented Murphy from exerting anything like his usual level of influence.

McMahon actually outscored Murphy in open play, popping over a point in the 20th minute after his pursuit of the Donegal captain took him close to the opposition goal.

It was Tyrone's first point, but since Darren McCurry had slipped in for an opportunist goal in the 10th minute, Donegal's early dominance left them only two points clear.

By the 34th minute, Tyrone had moved two points ahead after enjoying their best period, during which their direct running stressed the Donegal defence into uncomfortable territory.

Having played against the wind, Donegal might have been happy to trail by just two points at the interval.

However, things improved dramatically just before half-time when midfielder Martin McElhinney took his first half tally to 1-2 when he booted a rebound to the net after O'Neill had saved spectacularly from Odhran MacNiallais.

Colm McFadden added a point to leave Donegal leading by 1-8 to 1-6.

Tyrone responded positively to the new challenge and were back level by the 51st minute when Conor McAliskey kicked the third of his three points.

Unfortunately for Tyrone, that was their last score. They enjoyed plenty possession in the final quarter but were continually shepherded across the pitch outside the scoring zone.

Donegal also struggled to create openings but two pointed frees by Murphy, who also fired over a '45' late on, ensured another famous victory in MacCumhaill Park.

Once again, Tyrone are headed for the qualifiers, a familiar route on which they have frequently launched major All-Ireland campaigns.

And while they will be disappointed with yesterday's result, they did more than enough to suggest the season is far from over.

Scorers - Donegal: M McElhinney 1-2, M Murphy 0-3 (2fs, 1'45'), P McBrearty, C McFadden, C Toye 0-2 each, F McGlynn, K Lacey 0-1 each. Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-4 (3fs), D McCurry 1-0, C McAliskey 0-3, J McMahon, M Donnelly, R McNamee 0-1 each.

Donegal - P Durcan 7; E McGee 7, N McGee 7, P McGrath 6; R McHugh 6, K Lacey 8, F McGlynn 8; N Gallagher 8, M McElhinney 8; M O'Reilly 5, O Mac Niallais 7, C Toye 7; P McBrearty 7, M Murphy 6, C McFadden 7. Subs: M McHugh 6 for O'Reilly (39), A Thompson for Toye (67), D Walsh for McElhinney (70), D McLaughlin for McFadden (71).

Tyrone - M O'Neill 8; A McCrory 7, R McNamee 7, C McCarron 7; R McNabb 7, J McMahon 7, P Harte 7; C Cavanagh 6, S Cavanagh 8; R Brennan 5, M Donnelly 7, B Tierney 6; D McCurry 6, C McShane 5; C McAliskey 7. Subs: P McNulty 5 for McShane (41), T McCann for Tierney (55), M Bradley for McCurry (63), R O'Neill for McAliskey (67).

Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)

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