Donegal U21 should edge Tyrone - provided they bring their shooting boots
EirGrid Ulster Under-21 Football Championship quarter-final replay: Donegal v Tyrone (tonight, 8pm, Ballybofey)
BETWEEN senior and under-21 this will be a third meeting of Donegal and Tyrone in the space of seven days but there are certain pairings that the public would never tire of watching.
And right now, this is the most fiercely competitive and mouth-watering rivalry not only in Ulster, but quite possibly across the whole island.
It grew legs that day in 2011 when Dermot Molloy found the net late on to end Tyrone’s reign as provincial champions and since then, there has been an edge to meetings at every age group.
In particular, the under-21s have provided no shortage of drama, excitement and friction in their over the last two years.
Last Wednesday night’s clash in Omagh was a fascinating contest that will tonight produce the first replay in the provincial under-21 series since Armagh and Antrim couldn’t be separated by extra-time at the first attempt back in 2014.
The demands of the schedule could be more telling on Declan Bonner’s charges than they are on Feargal Logan’s.
Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Michael Carroll and Jamie Brennan both played the whole of Saturday night’s senior clash in MacCumhaill Park, while Michael Langan, Stephen McBrearty and Cian Mulligan were all introduced off the bench.
Tyrone used none of their under-21 contingent, with Logan seemingly given more freedom over the likes of Lee Brennan and David Mulgrew than his counterpart Bonner.
That is one barrier to Donegal’s hopes of progression but a far bigger one would be if they bring the same shooting boots that they wore in Omagh last week.
16 wides in total, nine of them in a first half that they ended a point in front but scratching their heads over how the gap wasn’t wider.
Indeed, they ended up thankful to a goal-line clearance by Eoghan Bán Gallagher that denied 2015 champions Tyrone a winning goal in the dying minutes.
The Tír Chonaill side are expected to again be without Jason McGee, whose shoulder injury looks set to sideline him for at least another fortnight according to Bonner.
Cian Mulligan and Rory Carr were both late introductions off the bench last week but both are in contention for more central roles in MacCumhaill Park.
Mulligan’s appearance in the senior tie on Saturday evening, where he kicked a fine point into the bargain, should push him right into the frame.
If Carr was fit to start at midfield, it would free either Michael Langan or Michael Carroll to push forward into a more attacking role.
That four of Donegal’s starting front six last week failed to score from play is another indication of whether their struggle lay.
Caolan McGonigle and Ciaran Gillespie are further doubts but with the Ulster minor winning squad of three years ago at his disposal, Donegal will remain slight favourites on paper.
But Tyrone will feel they’ll have been brought on plenty by last Wednesday night’s game, given their relative lack of competitive action compared to that enjoyed by Donegal through the McKenna Cup.
David Mulgrew showed why Mickey Harte has kept such a keen eye on him over the past few years with four points from play and although Lee Brennan was relatively well shackled, his 45 that salvaged the replay was a moment of class at a critical time.
Tyrone will feel there is enough of a clinical edge about their attack to push this one to the wire once again, and they will also be banking on having the fresher legs in the event that it does.
But Donegal should really have won the first encounter and provided they rectify their wastefulness, it should be them that advance to meet Cavan in next week’s semi-final.