Mark Bradley's moment of magic secures crucial win for Mickey Harte's Tyrone
Tyrone 2-13 Donegal 1-10
THE greater maturity, and a moment of magic from Mark Bradley, was enough for Tyrone to take both points in what was a crucial game for the shape of the league, and the overall outlook of their progress as winter gingerly turns into spring.
Mickey Harte’s delight at winning will come with some caveats, but for an under-fire manager, this win means a great deal more than just the points. This was a marker that the Red Hands needed to lay down.
It took a wonderful goal from Mark Bradley to open up a gap at the start of the second half, after the home side had miraculously managed to gain the lead just on the stroke of half-time courtesy of a Niall Sludden goal.
Pre-game rumblings that there was doubt over Paddy McBrearty — the leading scorer in Division One — were proved correct when the Kilcar man was ruled out and Ciaran Thompson filled his number 13 jersey.
Out went defensive bulwark Neil McGee also — replaced by Stephen McMenamin and his full-back partner Paddy McGrath, with Conor Morrison coming in.
The whispers around Tyrone were that Frank Burns would be playing as a second sweeper — a role he performed with distinction in the 2015 All-Ireland under-21 team, and he came in for Michael McKernan with Cathal McShane ousting Kieran McGeary, while just at throw-in it emerged Hugh Pat McGeary was in for Ronan McNamee.
The visitors set the pace early on, making their way to a double-score lead of 0-6 to 0-3 after the first frantic 20 minutes.
They made light of McBrearty’s absence with two typically attractive points from Odhran MacNiallais and two frees from Michael Murphy who saw plenty of ball and gained plenty of space with some loose marking from his direct opponent Padraig Hampsey, but the Donegal captain also hit three wides in that opening period.
But while Tyrone mounted a comeback, frees from Lee Brennan and Connor McAliskey narrowing the gap to a single point, they gained a penalty just after the half hour. Niall Sludden blocked down a Murphy shot and a rapid counter-attack with a perfectly-weighted Conor Meyler pass found Sludden who had impressively sprinted forward.
He was taken out of it by Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton and referee David Coldrick made the decision not to black card the St Eunan’s man. Salt was rubbed into the wound when Peter Harte’s unconvincing spot kick went wide of the post.
A goal would arrive however from a remarkably similar move. This time Colm Cavanagh turned Odhran MacNiallais over and Tyrone’s skill on the counter through Mark Bradley, Peter Harte and Padraig McNulty got Sludden through again and this time he picked his way past Patton and slotted it low to the corner to put Tyrone in the lead for the first time, 1-5 to 0-7 on the whistle for the break. It was, as they say, a perfect time to score a goal.
Bradley’s goal at the start of the second half was a thing of beauty. One minute he was linking play with Cathal McCarron around the middle, the next he popped up and played a give and go with Cathal McShane before honing in on goal, selling a clever dummy to Leo McLoone and then sliding the ball between Patton’s legs to make it 2-5 to 0-7.
Donegal appeared to be heading out of the game before a devastating counter-attack brought a series of slick handpasses delivered at pace and accurately with Eoghan Ban Gallagher’s weighted fist pass over Niall Morgan leaving MacNiallais to palm the ball to the net.
Another couple of points, prompted by MacNiallais finding Eamonn Doherty in oceans of space and an effort from distance from Hugh McFadden that dropped from the clouds brought them back within two points of Tyrone.
But Tyrone dug in, with Sludden setting the pace of the game cleverly. Frank Burns, another impressive performer, drew a free from Gallagher that Lee Brennan converted, Peter Harte opened his account on a quiet night and a brave kick from distance by Cathal McShane cleared the crossbar.
This leaves Donegal in serious bother ahead of next week’s match against Monaghan, while Tyrone will be feeling a lot better about themselves before another very important game in the shape of a trip to Castlebar next Sunday to face Mayo.
Scorers - Tyrone: L Brennan 0-5, 4f, N Sludden 1-1, M Bradley 1-1, C McAliskey 0-3f, C McShane 0-1, P Harte 0-1, N Morgan 0-1f; Donegal: O MacNiallais 1-2, M Murphy 0-3f, E Doherty, EB Gallagher, H McFadden, M McHugh, S McBrearty 0-1 each
Tyrone: N Morgan; F Burns, P Hampsey, C McCarron; C Meyler, HP McGeary, C McShane; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; M Donnelly, N Sludden, P Harte; L Brennan, C McAliskey, M Bradley. Subs: M McKernan for HP McGeary (50), K McGeary for McNulty (57), D Mulgrew for McAliskey (62), D McCurry for Bradley (67), C McCann for McShane (70), R Brennan for Meyler (73)
Donegal: S Patton; C Morrison, S McMenamin, EB Gallagher; T McClenaghan, C Ward, E Doherty; H McFadden, O MacNiallais; L McLoone, R McHugh, M McHugh; C Thompson, M Murphy, J Brennan. Subs: D O’Baoill for Thompson, M McElhinney for McClenaghan (42), S McBrearty for M McHugh (50), F McGlynn for Ward (57), N O’Donnell for Brennan (63), M Langan for MacNiallais (67)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)