Kevin Madden: Shooting the lights out one week, grinding it out the next is not a bad way for Donegal to be entering an Ulster final

Red Hands put themselves a position to win but couldn’t land the killer blow

Donegal goalkeeper Gavin Mulreany during his side's win over Tyrone. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal goalkeeper Gavin Mulreany during his side's win over Tyrone. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Sunday tactical battle between Tyrone and Donegal got me thinking about the famous line in the Shakespeae play Hamlet, where life and death were contemplated -

To be or not to be, or in this case, ‘To press or not to press, that is the question.’

A goalkeeper on his cChampionship debut was able to find a Donegal player on 22 of his 24 kick-outs.

On the one hand, who could have blamed Tyrone for conceding the Donegal kick-out after the trail of destruction they inflicted on Derry last week as they hit three boomers over the top that ended up in Odhran Lynch’s net.

In surmising what led to the Oak Leafer’s demise, I really wondered why Tyrone, as they prepared for this game, did not have a different plan depending on the Donegal goalkeeping situation - Shaun Patton starting v Gavin Mulreany starting.

Mulreany is a good kicker of the ball but his range and accuracy wouldn’t be on the level of Patton. It was easy for him to come on last week with the game sewn up and not look out of place.

This would be his full Championship debut. In my opinion, Tyrone needed to pick their moments and ask questions of the rookie goalkeeper.

You have to ask yourself was this the plan all along to concede or what motivated Tyrone to take this approach?

It would be very easy now with hindsight to say that this was completely the wrong thing to do given Tyrone lost the game, but it must also be considered that the Red Hands led this game by three points for long periods and were frustrating the life out of Donegal by meeting them with a very mean and well-organised defensive structure.

That was possible because they conceded the kick-out, which allowed them to get set up but this doesn’t tell the whole story as this was far from a counter-attacking masterclass from the Red Hands.

In fact it was anything but, as Donegal had 41 shots from 41 attacks (It must be said that some of those shots could have been in the same move with rebounds, shots blocked etc).

The fact remains, however, that Donegal were getting a shot away practically every single time they had possession of the ball.

When you gift a team that many opportunities to score, they can afford to have a nightmare of an evening in front of the posts and still win - 15 Donegal wides and an additional eight shots either dropped short or blocked/saved/off the post tells it’s own story.

Peadar Mogan takes on Michael McKernan in Donegal's win over Tyrone. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Peadar Mogan takes on Michael McKernan in Donegal's win over Tyrone. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

As the game entered extra-time, it was inevitable Donegal’s efficiency in front of goal would go up, as Tyrone started to tire.

The Donegal point at the end of the first half of extra time summed the whole thing up. With the game level at 16 apiece, Ciaran Daly had just taken a mark which he missed.

Regardless of the shot outcome, this was a great opportunity for Tyrone to get the bodies up and press the kick-out, but instead they dropped off to the ‘45′ and conceded, inviting yet another Donegal attack.

With the bodies really starting to tire, there wasn’t a single tackle made in those 50 seconds or so that ended with Shane O’Donnell bursting through to put his team one up.

When the tallies were added up at the end, Tyrone had 13 fewer shots than their opponents. This wasn’t unlucky. They may have controlled the game, but they never put themselves in a position to go and kill it off.

They should have won on Sunday afternoon but they needed to do it in normal time.

The opportunity was there to put Donegal’s lights out but unfortunately for them, they rode the donkey far too close to the tail and it wasn’t to be.

Tyrone can learn plenty from this defeat and more gametime through the group stages will see their team evolve a bit further.

Donegal are certainly a team on an upward trajectory under Jim McGuinness and it will have pleased him greatly that they somehow found a different way.

Shooting the lights out one week, grinding it out the next. Not a bad place to be entering an Ulster final.

Aidan Forker's permanent move out into the half-back line has also helped Armagh's attacking play. Picture: Philip Walsh
Armagh just about got over the line against Down as Conor Laverty's gameplan very nearly came off Picture: Philip Walsh

Of course their opponents on Sunday week will be Armagh after they just about fell over the line against a Down team with a point to prove.

Conor Laverty got his tactics spot on as they opted to make the game attritional rather than invite a shoot-out.

Down will be kicking themselves that they didn’t see this one out but they look to be in a good place to go one better than last year and win the Tailteann Cup.

What will be worrying for Kieran McGeeney is that none of his starting six forwards registered a single score from play on Saturday evening.

Armagh don’t seem to be kicking the ball as much in recent times and I can’t see that changing coming into the Donegal game.

This final is unlikely to be one for the purists but it will not lack intrigue.

Michael Murphy fired the shots after the match on commentary when he said, “Armagh 10 years into their project. Donegal about 10 months into theirs.” Bring it on.