Tyrone v Donegal: Little learned from changed tacts
Allianz National Football League Division One: Tyrone 2-13 Donegal 1-10
IF there’s a lesson to be taken from Saturday night in Omagh, it’s that we probably learned nothing at all.
Wind the clock back a year to Ballybofey and weather conditions affected the game in such a way that the hype over Donegal’s emphatic win counted for nothing only an unwelcome distraction when they met in championship.
The weather was fine at the weekend but the test conditions were altered significantly by the absence of Division One’s top scorer, Patrick McBrearty, from the Tír Chonaill team.
Declan Bonner was non-committal on the nature or severity of the injury other than to say it requires a scan, but admitted that the loss of the Kilcar man was sufficient for him to alter his team’s shape for the night.
There was none of their swashbuckling early season football despite the presence of Michael Murphy on the edge of the square, which instead only served to highlight how rusty he still is.
Padraig Hampsey did another fine containing job but Murphy’s touch was clearly off, the speed of mind not matched by the fleeting foot.
So a half-fit Michael Murphy, an absent Paddy McBrearty, no Neil McGee either and no game time for Nathan Mullins or the reintroduced Anthony Thompson means that in terms of learning, there wasn’t really any in it.
“We looked and we knew what we were going to be faced with,” admitted the Donegal boss.
“It meant we needed to be that two or three points ahead. Once Tyrone got ahead, it was always going to be difficult. A lot of the players are inexperienced against that type of hard-running Tyrone team, when they do get bodies sucked forward, they do punish you when they get the ball turned over.”
It’s hard to even gauge if Donegal would play the way they did in the summer. They’ve been keeping bodies high up the pitch, pressing teams in their own half and creating chances in the early part of the league, but this was a move away from all of that.
There were sweepers galore, with Mark McHugh and Leo McLoone dropping off for Donegal, while Colm Cavanagh, Frank Burns and, at times, Mattie Donnelly all sat free for Tyrone.
For all the promise of something new, this was something borrowed from yesteryear instead.
Asked if it signified a potential change in mindset for any potential summer meeting with the Red Hands, Bonner said: “It’s a work in progress, I did say it wouldn’t take weeks or months, it’s going to take a bit of time for us to implement exactly what we’re doing.
“It does leave us open, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve got to become better defensively all over the park when we don’t have the ball.”
Even in a frantic opening quarter that the visitors shaded, there were times when they had all 15 yellow shirts back inside their own half. Tyrone, ironically, were probably the more adventurous, keeping Lee Brennan up virtually the whole time, although he wasn’t joined by Mark Bradley or Connor McAliskey quite as often as they might have liked.
And once the game settled down, the Red Hands were the better side.
Donegal started well as two early points from Odhrán Mac Niallais and a fine effort from the impressive Eoghan Bán Gallagher helped Declan Bonner’s side lead by 0-6 to 0-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Lee Brennan was showing well again inside while Mark Bradley had flashes of brilliance from a slightly deeper role, though it was the relentless probing of Niall Sludden and Frank Burns that showed up most resplendent on a beautiful floodlit evening.
Tyrone were back to within a point on half an hour when Sludden made a superb block to deny Michael Murphy a point-scoring chance 25 yards from goal.
Within a matter of seconds Tyrone had countered the length of the field, catching Donegal completely out and when Conor Meyler dropped the ball right in behind, it was none other than Sludden running on to it again.
Shaun Patton trailed him down by the legs to concede a penalty, though quite how David Coldrick saw fit not to black card him (or at the very, very least yellow) was incomprehensible.
And Donegal got off scot free when the normally ice-cool Peter Harte slid the ball agonisingly wide from 11 yards. But it was only a brief respite as Colm Cavanagh and Padraig McNulty both pushed forward to create a chance for Niall Sludden, whose pace took him around the cover and composure saw him finish across Patton off his left foot to give Tyrone a 1-5 to 0-7 lead at half-time.
Within 90 seconds of the restart they had a second goal, with Mark Bradley selling a beautiful dummy to Leo McLoone before slipping the ball between Patton’s legs.
Mickey Harte’s side hit the next three scores to go 2-8 to 0-7 clear but from that position of comfort, they stopped and allowed Donegal right back into it.
It was Eoghan Bán Gallagher’s hard running that opened up the Tyrone cover for Donegal’s goal, and he unselfishly popped it up for Odhran Mac Niallais, though there was a question mark over whether the Gaoth Dobhair man threw the ball into the net rather than palmed it.
Stephen McBrearty pointed and all of a sudden it was 2-8 to 1-8, and the 5,850 paying fans had a game again.
A huge Hugh McFadden score – whether it was deliberate or not – cut the gap back to two with 10 minutes left but that was as close as it got. Cathal McShane, Peter Harte and Lee Brennan (two frees) hit the last four unanswered scores to leave Tyrone close to safety and Donegal clawing at the cliff’s edge.
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1f); HP McGeary, P Hampsey, C McCarron; F Burns, C Meyler, M Donnelly; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; C McShane (0-1), N Sludden (1-1), P Harte (0-1); L Brennan (0-6, 0-4f), C McAliskey (0-3f), M Bradley (1-0)
Subs: M McKernan for HP McGeary (49), K McGeary for McNulty (57), D Mulgrew for McAliskey (62), D McCurry for Bradley (66), C McCann for McShane (70), R Brennan for Meyler (73)
Yellow cards: F Burns (26), HP McGeary (47)
Black card: M Donnelly (75)
Donegal: S Patton; C Morrison, E Doherty (0-1), E Bán Gallagher (0-1); T McCleneghan, C Ward, S McMenamin; H McFadden (0-1), O Mac Niallais (1-2); L McLoone, R McHugh, M McHugh (0-1); C Thompson, M Murphy (0-3f), J Brennan
Subs: M McElhinney for Thompson (42), D Ó Baoill for McCleneghan (49), S McBrearty (0-1) for M McHugh (49), F McGlynn for Ward (56), N O’Donnell for Brennan (63), M Langan for Mac Niallais (67)
Yellow cards: M Murphy (25), D Ó Baoill (46), L McLoone (75)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)