Donegal beat Tyrone to claim Dr McKenna Cup honours
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Final: Donegal 1-16 Tyrone 1-12
A FINAL that seemed to start in a distant time of free-flowing football finished with the familiar fractiousness of this recent rivalry, all the while hinting at a different future.
A strange game in many respects, but there was nothing unusual about the identity of the victors based on the respective performances, even if red-and-white ribbons have appeared welded to this trophy since 2012.
A half-strength Donegal side deservedly defeated a second string Tyrone team, although both bosses sent on some big guns as they vied to win what was a shoot-out from the outset but almost a stalemate in the closing stages.
Donegal did a lot of their damage early on, scoring more than half their total (1-7) inside the opening quarter hour, although even then they only led by five points because Tyrone had actually bagged the game’s opening goal.
Aiming for a seventh consecutive triumph in this competition, the Red Hands went ahead for the first time in the seventh minute, the Moy’s goal-grabber Harry Loughran netting a low shot after a burst through by Conall McCann.
Yet that proved to be the only occasion Tyrone were in front as Donegal responded emphatically within three minutes. Counter-attacking after a poor Tyrone kick-pass in attack, full-forward Ciaran Thompson held off several defenders to release Martin McElhinney, who cleverly dinked the ball past Mickey O’Neill with the outside of his right boot.
The rampant Tir Chonaill men then raced five clear, capped by a huge effort from the excellent Odhran Mac Niallais.
Tyrone, not helped by Ronan O’Neill spurning a couple of half-chances for goals, were chasing the game after that, even though Donegal suddenly forgot how to score themselves.
While the Red Hands enjoyed the rarity of a right-footed score from Darren McCurry, Donegal racked up four poor wides and a shot dropped short, before another weak Tyrone kick, this time from their ’keeper, led to a Marty Reilly score.
Although the early scoring rate could not be maintained, the surprisingly open nature of this game continued: Tyrone full-back Cathal McCarron scored, having been repeatedly surging forward, while Donegal’s Frank McGlynn replied from the right corner-forward position.
The early stages had been characterised by Donegal half-backs Paul Brennan and Daire O’Baoill powering forward, both getting on the score-sheet, and – probably as a consequence – Tyrone’s half-forwards rampaging through too.
It couldn’t continue – or be allowed to. Tyrone had brought Padraig Hampsey into their named side instead of Colm Cavanagh (making for just the 13 changes from the Kildare game, with McCarron the other staying in the team).
Initially the Coalisland man was sweeping, with Declan McClure dropping back into midfield, yet with just over 10 minutes played he was switched to man-marking duties due to the damage Thompson had been doing inside against Aidan McCrory.
While it became tighter, it remained a game of back and forth, Donegal more on top due to the midfield dominance provided by the massive Hugh McFadden and the creative vision of Mac Niallais.
Declan Bonner’s side were also better defensively, even though they were much-changed at the back among their nine alterations from the team that lined out in Dublin the previous weekend. Besides those aforementioned half-backs, feisty full-back Conor Morrison impressed too.
Every time Tyrone came back at them, Donegal responded admirably, although they were only actually on equal terms three times – at one and two points apiece and then at 1-10 each 10 minutes into the second half.
That latter levelling swiftly followed the introductions of Tyrone captain Mattie Donnelly, Cathal McShane, and Peter Harte, although the trio of scores that wiped out the deficit all came from Ronan O’Neill, two from frees.
Yet by that stage Donegal’s biggest weapon, Michael Murphy, had rolled onto the pitch too. He soon made his mark, although again it was a corner-forward doing more of the scoring.
To Donegal’s delight, teenager Niall O’Donnell notched a quick-fire double to add to his opener in the second half.
Still Tyrone refused to let go of the trophy easily, an O’Neill free and a Loughran point off the bar narrowing the gap to the minimum margin, but Donegal went on to ruthlessly remove the Red Hands’ grip.
Corner-back Stephen McMenamin carried possession to set up another score for Brennan and a cute Mac Niallais chip pass led to another free converted by Murphy.
After that it was mostly about yellow cards, and an injury-time red due to two cautions for Tyrone skipper Donnelly, although Murphy had the final say on the scoreboard from the subsequent free.
Donegal: S Patton; S McMenamin, C Morrison, F McGlynn (0-1); E Doherty, P Brennan (0-2), D O Baoill (0-2); O MacNiallais (0-1), H McFadden; C Thompson (0-1), M McElhinney (1-1), M McHugh; C McGonigle, S McBrearty, M Reilly (0-2, 0-1 free).
Substitutes: N O'Donnell (0-3) for McBrearty (inj., 25); M Murphy (0-3, 0-2 frees) for McElhinney (42); N Mullins for Reilly (45); C Ward for McGlynn (53); B McCole for McGonigle (64); N McGee for Doherty (71).
Yellow cards: O’Baoill (31); Mullins (62); Murphy (70).
Tyrone: M O’Neill; A McCrory, C McCarron (0-1), B Burns; M Cassidy, R McNabb, K McGeary (0-1); P Hampsey, B McDonnell; D McClure (0-1), H Loughran (1-1), C McCann (0-1); D McCurry (0-1), R McHugh, R O’Neill (0-6, 0-5 frees).
Substitutes: C McShane for Cassidy (40); M Donnelly for McClure (40); P Harte for K McGeary (42); C Meyler for McDonnell (53); HP McGeary for McCrory (50); N Sludden for Loughran (60).
Yellow cards: K McGeary (31); HP McGeary (63); Donnelly (68 and 73).
Red card: Donnelly (73, second yellow).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)