Sport Gaelic Football

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Morgan supreme as Tyrone draw the first blood

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Even after the final whistle had blown at Healy Park, the reluctance for some of the players to take a step back was quite apparent.

Sparks had been flying throughout between the McGee brothers in the Donegal full-back line and a coterie of Tyrone forwards, chiefly Stephen O'Neill.

As a little knot of players from either side made their way off the field in the company of two umpires the dialogue continued.

There wasn't much bonhomie between the sides with the date May 26 – when the two teams tussle in the Ulster championship – etched in the minds of everyone.

It may be too strong to suggest that they don't like each other, but, in football terms, there is a deep level of discord running through their rivalry now.

There was quite an undercurrent throughout with regular flashpoints for referee Joe McQuillan to deal with.

Hands were pushed into opposing players' faces and knees were dropped into the back of a player in at least one instance as things became overcooked.

Neither side felt an inch could be conceded. In all, McQuillan showed 13 yellow cards, nine to Donegal, and you couldn't make an argument against most of them.

Overall, he controlled the game impressively, punishing attempts from both sides to frequently halt play with overzealous, high tackles. A total of 53 frees, 31 to Donegal, says everything.

The most significant of the cards was a second yellow to Donegal captain Michael Murphy just before half-time as he chased up a rebound following Niall Morgan's brilliant save from his penalty and caught Justin McMahon with his leg.


It was an honest effort to make contact with the ball, but he caught his opponent, nonetheless, forcing McQuillan's hand.

The save and the red card was easily the game's pivotal moment. Instead of being a point down, Tyrone went in at half-time 0-6 to 0-4 ahead with an extra man.

Considering Murphy's importance to Donegal, it put Tyrone firmly in control and they exploited the numerical advantage after the break.

First blood then to Tyrone in a match Mickey Harte subsequently acknowledged they had to win, with that championship date in mind.

"If you keep losing to someone you might get an inferiority complex and that would not be good for anybody – but for sure it was probably more important for us to win than Donegal," he admitted.

"I think they could handle a defeat better than we could today and I am sure that they will be better prepared in May, because they will have more work put in than they have now."

Conversely, Jim McGuinness (left) reasoned how it wasn't "the biggest hit we're going to take."

"The circumstances unfolded as they did and the game went away from us, but Tyrone looked really sharp. You'd know looking at them that they'd a bit more work done than us. Our hand-passing was very sloppy as was our decision making," he said.

Yet, McGuinness was equally happy to point out that they had scored eight points with 14 men for most of the second half – until Neil Gallagher picked up a second yellow late on for pulling down Sean Cavanagh.

In that context they can be satisfied with how it developed for them. Frank McGlynn, Paddy McGrath and Colm McFadden were only coming back off injuries and they didn't let it get away from them when it threatened midway through the second half as Tyrone kicked on into a 1-10 to 0-7 lead.

Clearly McGuinness will be satisfied to follow the same path into the championship as last year. Relegation from Division 1, it seems, won't discommode them as they seek to 'road test' a number of options.

"We want to try to win next week and stay in the division, but we also want to be true to ourselves in terms of May 26 and looking at things, looking at players and testing things out and moving towards the summer. We did that last year," he said.

"We are in the exact same position as we were this time last year, we had two points. It's a matter of being true to yourself in terms of those goals."

"We tried a few things out last year in the league and the answer was definitely that's not going to work."

Neil Gallagher as a full-forward didn't work, but Ross Wherity and Ryan McHugh showed that they can have roles to play in the weeks and months ahead.

For Harte the progression of a more elaborate running game was one of the successes of the afternoon, their ability to run different angles of support a feature of their play.

Niall Morgan's value as a goalkeeper is also soaring. On top of the penalty save there were two frees and a '45' pointed and a sense of security under one particular dropping ball in the second half.

Cavanagh didn't always have his own way against Rory Kavanagh at midfield, but his two points were majestic.

For the most part Joe McMahon operated as a sweeper behind an impressive half-back line where Matthew Donnelly acquitted himself well and Ronan McNamee was also effective.

A two point lead between these rivals has been like gold dust over the last two championship seasons so when Tyrone went three ahead early in the second half through a trademark Joe McMahon long-range effort, Donegal had a mountain to climb.

Tyrone's goal from O'Neill on 40 minutes for a 1-7 to 0-6 lead was a little fortunate as Neil McGee managed to get a block in, but the bounce was unkind behind him and crossed the line.

From that position, Donegal didn't conceded any further ground over the next 30 minutes as Tyrone sought to protect what they had.

Winning was what mattered to them. It didn't matter how that goal was achieved as they looked forward to that crucial date in May.

Man of the Match: N Morgan (Tyrone)

Scorers – Tyrone: S O'Neill 1-2 (1f), N Morgan 0-3 (2f, 1 '45'), S Cavanagh, P Harte (2f) 0-2 each, R McKenna, Joe McMahon, R McNamee, Mark Donnelly 0-1 each. Donegal: C McFadden 0-5 (5f), M Murphy 0-3 (1f), A Thompson, P McBrearty, L McLoone, R Wherity 0-1 each.

Tyrone – N Morgan 9; A McRory 7, C Clarke, 7, Justin McMahon 7; R McKenna 7, Matthew Donnelly 8, R McNamee 8; S Cavanagh 8, M Murphy 5; Mark Donnelly 7, P McNiece 6, Joe McMahon 7; C McAliskey 5, S O'Neill 7, P Harte 6. Subs: M Penrose 6 for McAliskey (30), A Cassidy 8 for Murphy (h-t), C Cavanagh 6 for McNiece (55), R O'Neill for Mark Donnelly (62), C Gormley for Justin McMahon (62).

Donegal – P Durcan 7; P McGrath 7, N McGee 7, E McGee 7; A Thompson 8, F McGlynn 7, M McHugh 7; M McElhinney 5, R Kavanagh 8; R Wherity 6, L McLoone 7, R Bradley 6; C McFadden 6, N Gallagher 6, M Murphy 8. Subs: P McBrearty 6 for McElhinney (h-t), R McHugh 7 for Bradley (48), D Molloy for M McHugh (66).

Ref – J McQuillan (Cavan).

Irish Independent

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