Tyrone's hunger and bench men seal All-Ireland semi-final slot at Donegal's expense
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final Super 8s, phase three: Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 2-17
YOU can coach most things in Gaelic football – but you can’t coach desire. This Tyrone team may lack the sparkle and panache of the All-Ireland winning teams of the last decade, but their collective ambition to be the best they can be burns like a raging furnace.
Whether it’s enough to deliver a fourth All-Ireland title this summer only time will tell as the Red Hands prepare to be reacquainted with their provincial conquerors Monaghan at Croke Park in six days’ time in a mouth-watering semi-final showdown.
Even though Donegal led this winner-takes-all Super 8s clash from the 35th to the 63rd minute, there was an inevitability about the outcome.
Tyrone’s freakish fitness levels and a handful of game-changers on their bench ensured that Mickey Harte’s men would make the last four of the All-Ireland series for the third time in four seasons.
Lee Brennan, who entered the fray for Richie Donnelly after 39 minutes, hit three majestic points from play and changed the game.
Kieran McGeary also made a huge difference, giving renewed vigour to Tyrone’s middle eight.
Harry Loughran grabbed the decisive 63rd minute goal and set up the other for fellow substitute Declan McClure.
Earlier, Rory Brennan slotted into the back-line after Michael McKernan was black-carded in the opening exchanges and Conall McCann ran the legs off the Donegal defence in the closing stages.
Frank Burns, who made way for his Pomeroy club-mate Kieran McGeary early in the second half, heaped praise on Harte’s substitutions.
“Our bench is so important,” said Burns.
“You have to call on them every day and they’re coming on there to make a difference and they did that today – 100 per cent.
“Today wasn’t one of my best days but Kieran McGeary came on and did a good job and I’m very happy for him.
“I’ll go back to the training ground and work hard and get my performance better for the days ahead.”
The Donegal supporters among the 16,282 crowd could only stand back and admire Tyrone’s ferocious appetite to haul themselves back into yesterday’s compelling contest.
Donegal tried to jab their way to the finish – but they simply couldn’t keep Tyrone at bay in the last quarter and finally buckled.
“We know what we’re capable of when it comes to the dying stages of the game,” Burns added.
“Pete Donnelly [team trainer] has done great work with us, not just this year but over a number of years. In the last 10 or 15 minutes we’ve men to come on and do a job and just push the thing over the line.”
Yesterday’s famous victory for Tyrone ended Donegal’s 21-match unbeaten run in Ballybofey that stretches back to over eight years.
“It’s just great to come out of Ballybofey with a win,” the Pomeroy man said.
“I don’t know how many years they’ve been unbeaten here but it’s long time and it’s great to take that record away from them and make a bit of our own history.”
Even though Donegal carried a three-point lead in at the break after Michael Murphy almost took the stanchion off Niall Morgan’s goal with a rasping finish, Burns revealed the Tyrone camp were still confident of forging ahead and winning the tie.
“There were three points in it at half-time; that’s not that big of a lead. We believed when we went in at half-time that we could claw it back in the second half, and thankfully we did.”
Burns may have been disappointed with his own personal display yesterday but he has flourished in Tyrone’s charge through the back door this summer after they exited Ulster back in May.
“It has been up and down. Coming the back door route – we’ve been on the road nearly every week – has been unbelievable. Going away with the lads, having the craic and bonding more. The back door journey has been good for us. It’s built team spirit, we’ve got a few wins and there is great camaraderie in the team and it’s definitely been enjoyable.
“We’ve a week’s turnaround to Monaghan but we weren’t thinking about that at all. We’d today’s game in mind and that was it. We’ll look forward to next week now.”
Niall Morgan: Hit some sumptuous kick-outs in the first half but gifted Donegal a goal just before the break. To his credit, he stuck to the process and thoroughly enjoyed converting his long range free. 6.5
Michael McKernan: Suffered a black card in the early exchanges after blocking Ryan McHugh and paid the price. 4
Ronan McNamee: Shadowed Odhran MacNaillais and despite the concession of two second half points, the Tyrone defender won this duel. Dropped one first half effort short but stroked over a lovely score late on to effectively seal the tie. 7.5
Conor Meyler: Didn’t play football yesterday, sacrificing himself entirely for the Tyrone cause by following Ryan McHugh everywhere. Had tough periods in the opening 45 minutes but asked some questions of McHugh late in the game. Limped off in injury-time. 6
Tiernan McCann: After slinging over the first score of the day, he didn’t make many of his trademark raids but pushed Ciaran Thompson to the fringes of the game. Better second half and set up Harry Loughran’s goal. 7
Frank Burns: Dropped one effort short and was beaten from a standing start by Jamie Brennan for a first half point. His withdrawal early in the second half was down to a combination of Tyrone needing to be more attack-minded and Burns being subdued. 6
Peter Harte: Dug deep to win dirty ball on several occasions and finally escaped Eamonn Doherty’s shackles as the second half progressed. Ferocious work-rate. Proved he has more to his game than a wand of a left foot. 7.5
STAR MAN: Colm Cavanagh: Just when the Moy man’s star was flickering a little this summer, he reminded the 16,000 crowd of his incredible value to Tyrone. Popped up with a great first-half score when Harte and Sludden – Tyrone’s scoring threats - were being tied up by Donegal and was brilliant in the air. Typical brave-heart defending in the dying moments when he emerged with the ball and spirited the ball to safety. 8.5.
Padraig Hampsey: Marking Michael Murphy and winning that battle was no mean feat for the U21 All-Ireland winner. Had difficult moments in the first half but had the legs on Murphy in the second period and hit two points. 8
Matthew Donnelly: Tyrone’s only line breaker in the opening half, despite taking a few heavy hits along the way. Grabbed a point in either half. Strong display. 8
Niall Sludden: Eoghan ‘Ban’ Gallagher was touch tight to Sludden yesterday but the Dromore man won some important turnovers in both halves. His hard graft to win the ball off Odhran MacNaillais in the 56th minute led to Padraig Hampsey’s point. 6.5
Mark Bradley: A late change for Hugh Pat McGeary, the Killyclogher attacker hit a brilliant early score, but struggled to get free of Paddy McGrath. For a player who was out injured this summer, his fitness levels were exceptional as he came to the fore in the final quarter. 7
Cathal McShane: Had a chance of a goal in the second half but couldn’t convert and fired another chance wide. Did a lot of chasing into his own half before being withdrawn late on. 6
Richie Donnelly: A bit nervy and didn’t lift his head to give the right off-load once or twice and hooked two first-half efforts wide. Replaced in the 48th minute. 5.5
Connor McAliskey: His free-taking was below its usual high standard. Played in a deeper, worker-bee role and didn’t get a sight at Donegal’s posts from play. 6
Rory Brennan: An early entrance for the black-carded Michael McKernan and slotted in to the corner-back role. Spilled one ball but otherwise solid. 6.5
Kieran McGeary: Offers Tyrone a kick passing dimension and can also take a score. Pushing for a starting spot. 7.5
Lee Brennan: Threw a bit of magic dust around Ballybofey yesterday when the Tyrone forward line needed it most. His back-to-back scores from play in the 41st and 42nd minutes inspired those around him. 8
Harry Loughran: Grabbed a goal and had another effort blocked down. Made a strong impact. 7.5
Conall McCann: Gave Tyrone more legs in the last quarter. 6.5
Declan McClure: Bagged a stoppage-time goal. 6