Donegal go joint top of Division 1 with comprehensive win over Tyrone
It felt like a significant night in Ballybofey as Donegal went jointly to the summit of Division 1.
In front of 8,570 in a soaking yet searing cauldron, Rory Gallagher’s team handed Tyrone a first defeat of the year, confirming their insistence that they’re not ready to relinquish their status as contenders.
Even through nine minutes of added time at the end of another enticing chapter in their rivalry, Donegal never seemed in danger.
They made their hay in the periods before and after half-time. Between the 19th and the 57th minutes, Donegal went from 0-4 apiece to 12-5 in front.
Still without Patrick McBrearty and Karl Lacey, Donegal are playing with conviction and confidence and theirs was a thoroughly merited win.
The coming of age of Donegal’s last generation really began when they derailed Tyrone’s bid for a third successive Ulster title in 2011.
When Jim McGuinness took the reigns in Donegal, he had Tyrone in the crosshairs from early on. As Alex Ferguson might put it, Donegal knocked Tyrone from their perch in a tense semi-final.
Last summer, Tyrone returned to take their seat on the provincial throne for the first time since, and the wheel appeared to have come full circle again.
The loss of some of the seasoned veterans who led the way through Donegal’s golden age meant that expectations were lowered in the north-west.
But they’re rising steadily again through what has been an encouraging spring – and they showed last night that their own self-confidence is not without merit or reason.
Gallagher and some of his players have remarked how the suggestion of ‘transition’ doesn’t sit well with the group.
Donegal began with real purpose and had a 0-4 to 0-2 advantage by the 12th minute, Ciaran Thompson continuing his rise with an inspired brace.
Peter Harte landed a pair of points in a 90-second period and Tyrone were level but, within a minute, Ryan McHugh turned on the afterburners to restore Donegal’s lead.
As McHugh hit the high gears, Donegal sensed a goal, but the Kilcar flier had to settle for a point.
Harte’s brace was a real test of mettle for Donegal, but their response between then and the half-time break – when they led 0-9 to 0-4 – told a lot.
Michael Murphy landed an imperious free into the driving drizzle and corner-back Paddy McGrath gloriously curled over a score that was only the second in his Donegal career.
Donegal’s confidence was evident and long-distance efforts by Hugh McFadden and Thompson gave Donegal a healthy five-point cushion.
Justin McMahon was withdrawn after getting a booking for an off-the-ball incident with Murphy and Tyrone were pailing water from the vessel by then.
Cavanagh swept over the first point of the second half, but it was Donegal who appeared like the side with the greater need.
Cian Mulligan, another of the new faces in the Donegal ranks, swung over and Donegal tacked on points from Ryan McHugh and McFadden to stretch the lead.
Donegal managed to shut Tyrone out for over half-an-hour, Cavanagh scoring 22 seconds into the second half and the barren spell only ended when the Red Hands skipper landed a free in added time.
Donegal were stung badly by last year’s Ulster final defeat to Mickey Harte’s men, but have made it their mission to get the prize back.
Should they get over their respective Championship hurdles, they’ll be slated to meet again in exactly two months’ time, on June 18.
SCORERS: Donegal – C Thompson 0-3, R McHugh, H McFadden 0-2 each, F McGlynn, E McHugh, M Murphy (f), P McGrath, C Mulligan 0-1 each
Tyrone – S Cavanagh (2f) 0-3, P Harte 0-2, R Brennan 0-1,
DONEGAL – MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, E Doherty; E Gallagher, F McGlynn, P Brennan; C Thompson, M Murphy; M O’Reilly, E McHugh, R McHugh; M Carroll, H McFadden, J Brennan. Subs: C Mulligan for McGlynn (h-t), M McHugh for McGrath (bc, 56), M McElhinney for McFadden (64), M Langan for P.Brennan (65), B McCole for J.Brennan (70), S McBrearty for E.McHugh (70+5).
TYRONE – M O’Neill; C McShane, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, J McMahon, R Brennan; C Cavanagh, D McClure; N Sludden, K McGeary, P Harte; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, M Donnelly. Subs: C Meyler for McShane (h-t), P Hampsey for McClure (h-t), Aidan McCrory for McMahon (45), R O’Neill for Brennan (53), J Munroe for McCarron (59).
REFEREE – D Coldrick (Meath).