Tyrone should be hopeful but wary of Ulster derby against Donegal
ALTHOUGH Tyrone have won their last two Championship clashes with Donegal, their recent head-to-head record in the League will not inspire confidence in the O'Neill county ahead of their latest match.
The Red Hands have won just one of their last five league meetings against their neighbours to the north-west, although that win in 2013 was at least at Healy Park, the venue for this Saturday night's meeting.
Tension levels may well match those of that dramatic clash in Omagh half a decade ago. Tyrone had lost their last four games against Donegal, in League and Championship, including Ulster semi-finals in the previous two years – and the two teams knew they would meet again at the provincial quarter-final stage.
Donegal would go on to win that game in May in Ballybofey, but they lost the League encounter in Omagh, which took place exactly five years ago to the day of this weekend's game, on March 3.
The visitors ended up with only 13 men, losing captain Michael Murphy before half-time and midfielder Neil Gallagher late on - both to two yellow cards – and also the match by four points, 1-13 to 0-12.
Murphy had seen a penalty saved by Niall Morgan, who also saved superbly late in the game from Colm McFadden, while Tyrone's goal was scored by Stephen O'Neill, who is now part of their management team. It was a snarky, snappy affair, to say the least.
However, home advantage had not helped Tyrone in 2011, when Donegal won by 1-10 to 0-6 in Omagh, signalling the power shift that was to come under the management of Jim McGuinness. The Donegal goal was scored by substitute Dermot 'Molloy' Molloy, who was to make a similar significant contribution in their Ulster semi-final victory later that same year.
With both counties under threat of relegation now, it's noteworthy that the 1-13 to 0-12 victory by Tyrone in round three five years ago did contribute to Donegal's eventual demotion from the top flight.
Donegal, though, can claim likewise about their victory in 2015, when they hammered Tyrone by 1-13 to 0-6 in round six in Ballybofey. Mickey Harte's men could still have saved themselves by beating Kerry in the last round but could only manage a draw and were relegated.
On their return to Division One last year Tyrone again failed to get the better of Donegal, once more well beaten by Rory Gallagher's side in MacCumhaill Park.
The hosts were toying with their visitors long before the end of their 0-12 to 0-6 victory in round five. That ended Tyrone's unbeaten start to the League, with only Dublin having avoided defeat against them before that, and the result was viewed as Donegal laying down a marker ahead of their anticipated Ulster Championship meeting later in the year.
The two teams did meet in the provincial last four – but it was Tyrone who emerged as convincing victors, triumphing by 1-21 to 1-12 in Clones en route to retaining the Anglo-Celt Cup.
Donegal had the upper hand most recently, with new manager Declan Bonner quickly winning a trophy in his second spell in charge, beating Tyrone in the Dr McKenna Cup Final. However, both counties fielded weakened sides and are expected to be much-changed for Saturday night's showdown.
Given what's at stake, with Tyrone due to visit Mayo and host Kerry in their last two League games, while Donegal go to Ulster rivals Monaghan then host their old pals Mayo, neither side can really afford to lose this weekend if they want to avoid a return to Division Two.
However, if there is a loser, they may not worry too much, if a League defeat is a precursor to a better outcome in the Championship later in the year.
Looking ahead to round six of the League, Monaghan will fancy their chances when Donegal do visit, for several reasons: they have only lost once to the Tir Chonaill men in their last five League encounters, back in 2014 in Division Two, and their home form in the League against Ulster opposition in general is excellent.
Monaghan beat Donegal the last time they hosted them, a one-point victory in the final round two years ago, a victory that ensured Malachy O'Rourke's men stayed up at the expense of Cork. They also beat Down in Clones earlier in that campaign.
The Farneymen, as they did last weekend, also beat Tyrone when they visited in 2010, edging them out by a point in Inniskeen, a season in which they defeated Derry too, in Scotstown, results which ultimately kept Monaghan up and demoted those trans-Sperrin rivals that year.
Donegal, despite being dominant at home in the League against Tyrone, could only draw with Monaghan in Ballyshannon in last season's round six, and lost to them by 1-4 to 0-9 when they met in 2015's round four in Letterkenny.
RECENT NFL MEETINGS (Division One unless stated otherwise):
2018: Tyrone ?-?? Donegal ?-??, round five
2017: Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-6, round five
2015: Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 0-6, round six
2013: Tyrone 1-13 Donegal 0-12, round three
2011: Tyrone 0-6 Donegal 1-10, Division 2, round two
2009: Donegal 0-11 Tyrone 0-8, round five
2018: Donegal ?-?? Monaghan ?-??, round six
2017: Donegal 1-11 Monaghan 1-11, round six
2016: Monaghan 1-10 Donegal 1-9, round seven
2015: Donegal 1-4 Monaghan 0-9, round four
2014: Monaghan 1-16 Donegal 1-10, Division 2 Final
2014: Donegal 2-11 Monaghan 0-10, Division 2, round four
2018: Monaghan 0-15 Tyrone 0-14, round four
2017: Tyrone 0-14 Monaghan 0-10, round four
2015: Tyrone 0-9 Monaghan 1-13, round one
2012: Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-6, Division 2, round seven
2010: Monaghan 1-14 Tyrone 0-16, round three