Wednesday 13 November 2019

Donegal's graft swings a real Jekyll and Hyde game

Christy Toye, Donegal, is tackled by Colm Cavanagh, left, and Mattie Donnelly, Tyrone. Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship, Preliminary Round, Donegal v Tyrone (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE)
Christy Toye, Donegal, is tackled by Colm Cavanagh, left, and Mattie Donnelly, Tyrone. Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship, Preliminary Round, Donegal v Tyrone (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE)

Eugene McGee

We watched two versions of Gaelic football in Ballybofey yesterday in a match of a type we have come to expect throughout the country, but especially in the Ulster Championship.

One was a dramatic, exciting, hell-for-leather championship game featuring great scores, wonderful blocking, outstanding individual performances and a tight finish.

In the other version of the game, we saw too much behaviour that can only be described as nasty, cheap and mean, where too often players set out to deliberately antagonise and do physical damage to opponents.

The abuse dished out to Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh and Donegal's Michael Murphy, two of the finest and mist skilful players in the game, was disgraceful.


They were constantly harassed as a deliberate tactic but despite that carry-on, both men, through their natural skills, more than paid their way on behalf of their teams.

People can decide for themselves which of the two types of game we saw was the correct one, but there is no doubt that it was an absorbing contest.

Tyrone and Mickey Harte emerged with their heads held high considering that they were not given a chance in this contest beforehand and the fact that the players from the great All-Ireland-winning sides of 2003, '05 and '08 have almost disappeared.

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Donegal won because they are in their fifth year on the road, have learned a lot - both positive and negative in that time - and were simply too smart for many of the inexperienced Tyrone players.

In addition, they got off to a brilliant start, which is always crucial when playing at home.

But when they look back to assess this performance they will notice that players other than forwards scored 1-4, and three more points came from placed balls by Murphy.

That leaves only six points from play, and there was a period of 23 minutes in the first half when they only scored one point. It's not the sort of scoring that will win the All-Ireland, but then September is a long way off.

There were signs too that a few Donegal players are showing signs of wear and tear from the hard grind of the past four years.

That wasn't true, however, of Colm McFadden, who was back to his old confident self and worked very hard throughout the game.

The high number of yellow cards - coupled with the dismissals of Neil Gallagher and Cavanagh - reflected the intensity of this tension-laden encounter where clearly there is no love lost between many individual players on both sides.

A stricter referee would certainly have curbed some of the nasty behaviour we witnessed, but is that what the huge crowd really wanted? I doubt it.

Ulster football has set out its own stall as to how they want to play the game and with four All-Irelands coming to the province in the past decade, who can blame them?

From a technical point of view, it was Donegal's ability in the second half to put their whole team practically in their own half of the field when defending that frustrated Tyrone - and frustration is the correct word here.

Time and again when Tyrone moved the ball forward across the halfway line into attack, all they could see was a wall of Donegal jerseys, so they were forced to recycle the ball with hand-passing before eventually losing possession.

How ironic it is that this tactic cost Tyrone the game, since they were the originators of this style of play in their own glory days.

As they say, what goes around comes around as indeed Donegal too experienced when they played Kerry in last year's All-Ireland final. Now it is Armagh's turn to outwit Donegal and there are no surprises as to the sort of tactics we will get in that game.

But this win is a huge load off Donegal's back and they may expand their game-plan further with good results.

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