GAA Football

Can they kick it? Yes they can - Tyrone show another side to their game to ease past Donegal

Donegal's Paddy McGrath found the clever runs of Mark Bradkey difficult to deal with, the Killyclogher forward always providing an outlet from the long ball. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

THERE were audible gasps from the Tyrone support several times during the first half of the Red Hands’ demolition job on Donegal.

Eight points they scored to their opponents’ one in a dizzying 15 minute spell towards the end of the half that left the Tir Chonaill men gasping for breath, but it wasn’t just the pinpoint accuracy of their point-taking that had the Tyrone fans in thrall.

Ever since last August’s All-Ireland quarter-final exit to a Mayo team who were “crying out to be beaten”, according to Joe Brolly, the vultures have been circling. When the running game came up against a brick wall, the well ran dry.

Doubts dogged them too through a League campaign that ended with three defeats on the bounce. Can they kick it? No they couldn’t or, at least, they chose not to.

All that changed against Donegal on Sunday as Mickey Harte lifted his hand off the cards in the early stages, the Red Hands invoking memories of Joe Kernan-era Armagh with diagonal balls penetrating the Tir Chonaill defences.

Perhaps Harte had watched the opening exchanges of Donegal’s Ulster Championship opener against Antrim. Before the game turned into a cakewalk, the Saffrons got some joy out of quick, accurate ball into Tomas McCann and CJ McGourty.

The clever movement of these two men caused Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath difficulties, and on Sunday Mark Bradley provided the viable out ball the Red Hands would exploit.

They didn’t hang about either – the objective was clearly to push up high and pin Donegal back from the get-go.

Just over a minute in, Mattie Donnelly sprayed a searching ball right to left into Bradley. The nippy Killyclogher forward’s lay-off bounced off David Mulgrew and the move broke down, but the idea was right.

Thirty seconds later, Padraig Hampsey won the ball from Michael Murphy, got it back from Mulgrew and played a 30 metre pass into Bradley, pulling McGrath out to the left. It was worked back to the 40 and possession was recycled again.

On five minutes, Donnelly didn’t waste a second before launching a long left footed pass into Bradley, but there wasn’t enough support and McGrath came away with the ball.

That Tyrone didn’t score from these moves is of minor significance – they were making Donegal think, breeding insecurity about where the Red Hand attacks were going to come from.

For example, when Donnelly picked up the ball outside the 40 nine minutes in, the Donegal defenders pushed up, expecting another long pass. Instead, the Trillick ace ran around the outside and scored a superb point.

The kick passing did bear fruit on the scoreboard too, another diagonal ball in the 13th minute – this time from Peter Harte - finding another superb Bradley run, and he swivelled and finished.

Can they kick it? Yes they can, as it turns out.

Also key to Tyrone’s win on Sunday were Niall Morgan’s long kick-outs.

In a game played in perfect conditions, the Edendork man often sent the ball like a nuclear missile beyond the Donegal midfield to put the Tir Chonaill on the back foot.

Early notice was served when Colm Cavanagh rose above Michael Murphy before laying off to onrushing brother Sean, whose shot was well saved by Mark Anthony McGinley.

Indeed, with Sean Cavanagh dropping back, it looked at times as though Tyrone were playing something resembling a six man midfield, with Colm Cavanagh, Padraig Hampsey, Donnelly, Kieran McGeary and Peter Harte all operating around that sector.

It was a risky game, and Donegal almost exploited it in the 16th minute when a McGinley kick-out broke to Murphy who played in Eoin McHugh, and all of a sudden the Kilcar man was bombing into acres of empty space.

After he spurned that glorious opportunity, Tyrone turned the screw – and they could have punished Donegal further.

Harte won’t be happy with the fact the Red Hands only scored one goal from six genuine chances - they can’t afford to pass up those opportunities as they move deeper into the summer months.

Mattie Donnelly found it hard to find space against Derry, but was very influential in Sunday's defeat of Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin


Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)

COLM Cavanagh undoubtedly exerted the greatest influence on Tyrone during Sunday’s victory over Donegal, but Mattie Donnelly was also extremely influential, performing a quarter-back role at times.

The stats show that he had the most possessions on Sunday, not surprising considering he operated mostly on the right side of the midfield sector, but his use of the ball was second to none.

Early deliveries from deep into Mark Bradley were played with pinpoint accuracy, offering the Killyclogher man the best possible opportunity to win the ball and put Donegal on the back foot.

Donnelly also demonstrated his trademark relentless running from deep, bursting beyond Eoin McHugh before sending a shot high and handsome over the bar in the ninth minute.

Fifteen minutes after the break, with Tyrone putting the pedal down, he broke Donegal hearts again by spotting a pocket of space before gliding through and firing over, this time with his left.

The consummate modern day footballer.

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