GAA Football

Donegal score morale-boosting win and increase Tyrone's Division One worries

Jeaic McKelvey gets in ahead to score Donegal's second goal that sank Tyrone Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
From Brendan Crossan in Ballybofey

Allianz National Football League Division One: Donegal 2-10 Tyrone 0-12

UNDER a pitch-black Ballybofey sky as the cold began to bite deep into our marrow, Feargal Logan took refuge against a wall outside Tyrone’s changing room and offered up no excuses.

Even when they were put on a plate for him by awaiting press reporters – the anticipated turbulence that comes after winning an All-Ireland and the high-profile absentees - he batted them away and simply sucked up Tyrone’s second defeat in Division One that leaves the Red Hands looking over their shoulder.

In blustery conditions, Donegal goals towards the end of each half did the damage.

“Of course it was going to be a tricky League for us but there is no point in making excuses,” said Logan, whose immediate thoughts turned to the injured Padraig McNulty who suffered a fracture of his upper arm in the first half of Saturday night’s attritional clash with their neighbours.

“At this level we just have to take our hit tonight and go at again.”

As the Tyrone players filed out one by one, grabbing a chicken curry and rice from a warm container as they went, around the corner Don Henley’s Boys of Summer played from the winning changing room.

The volume was low enough and not particularly celebratory, as there were no mad fist pumps among the Donegal players – but, make no mistake, this was a huge psychological boost to Declan Bonner’s squad.

By beating the All-Ireland champions in the manner that they did, they stitched a thick layer of confidence to their young shoulders – and managed to chisel out this crucial victory without the totemic Michael Murphy.

And yet, for most of the first half, Donegal seemed dwarfed by the task in front of them.

Their sagging confidence brought home from Killarney last week hadn’t dissipated on home soil as the visitors outshone them by playing some intelligent, sharp, attacking football in the opening 35 minutes.

Donegal couldn’t get to grips with Michael McKernan’s advances from deep – the Tyrone corner-back displaying all the surefootedness of a corner-forward with two lovely first-half scores.

Darragh Canavan and Nathan Donnelly were moving well, towering midfielders Conn Kilpatrick and Brian Kennedy were full of energy and enterprise, while Conor Meyler still managed to exert influence on proceedings even though Ryan McHugh dragged Tyrone’s most effective line-breaker to the edge of Niall Morgan’s square, and far away from the middle sector of the field.

Indeed, it was a fascinating cat-and-mouse duel, with Meyler able to break out and assist for a couple of Tyrone’s points in the first half but McHugh pinched a fourth minute score himself and occupied the Omagh Allstar in the second half.

Tyrone hit an unanswered five points between the 12th and 29th minutes – a period of the game that was stalled by the sickening injury sustained to McNulty’s right arm after a full-blooded challenge with Donegal’s Odhran McFadden-Ferry.

Donegal badly needed a momentum-breaker – and it eventually came in first-half stoppage-time.

Even though Paudie Hampsey was like Patrick McBrearty’s second skin in Ballybofey on Saturday night, the experienced Donegal attacker was the wonderful architect of Donegal’s first major of the night.

McBrearty wrong-footed the Coalisland man, lent the ball to Peadar Mogan before off-loading across Tyrone’s goal for man-of-the-match Conor O’Donnell to fist home.

There was so much to admire in how McBrearty, Mogan and O’Donnell unpicked Tyrone’s defensive lock.

The three-pointer left the home side trailing by just a point (0-7 to 1-3) and there was still time for Jason McGee to level things up on the cusp of half-time.

O'Donnell's goal was the shot in the arm Donegal needed. Their players seemed to find an extra yard of pace and grew a foot taller by that one sumptuous move.

In the second half, Donegal’s runners plundered Tyrone’s right side, fashioning numerous scores, with Conor O’Donnell enjoying a special night.

The Cardonagh man added to his first-half goal with a smashing 43rd minute point and grabbed back-to-back scores in the 60th and 62nd minutes to raise the roof off MacCumhaill Park, the second of which levelled the game for the sixth time.

In a bid to stem the Donegal tide, Tyrone forwards Cathal McShane and Conor McKenna were introduced in the 56th and 67th minutes, respectively – changes that might have been made a little earlier to help the visitors' cause.

As it was, Donegal had the bit between their teeth going down the home straight. Oisin Gallen, introduced just before the hour mark, put Declan Bonner’s men one up in the 65th minute (1-10 to 0-12) – another score mined from their left flank.

Darren McCurry had a couple of stabs at Donegal’s posts from tricky angles but the equalising point never came.

Indeed, the Edendork man might well have been impeded by Brendan McCole as he went to pull the trigger in the closing stages with his shot falling into Shaun Patton’s arms.

Donegal worked the ball up the field and 10 passes later, Declan Bonner’s men were celebrating their second goal of the night and certain victory.

Gallen found the unmarked Mogan with a brilliant kick pass and substitute Jeaic McKelvey showed incredible desire to get to the ball first to palm home from a yard out, and in doing so released a tremendous amount of pressure on his Donegal team-mates and management, while also banishing the memory of their “atrocious” second half performance down in Kerry six days earlier.

“I wasn’t happy and nobody within our group would have been happy with the second half down in Killarney,” Bonner said afterwards. “We were atrocious. We spoke about it and we spoke on how we could rectify it and to a degree we did that this evening.”

Donegal: S Patton (0-1 free); C Ward, B McCole, S McMenamin; R McHugh (0-1), EB Gallagher, O McFadden-Ferry; H McFadden, J McGee (0-1); S O’Donnell (0-1), P Mogan, C Thompson; P McBrearty (0-2, 0-1 free), C O’Donnell (1-3), N O’Donnell

Subs: J McKelvey (1-0) for N O’Donnell (35 +6), O Gallen (0-1) for H McFadden (59), D Ó Baoill for S O’Donnell (68), E O’Donnell for O McFadden-Ferry (68)

Yellow cards: S McMenamin (70)

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan (0-2), P Hampsey, F Burns; N Sludden, J Munroe (0-1), K McGeary; C Kilpatrick (0-1), B Kennedy; N Donnelly, D Canavan (0-1), C Meyler; D McCurry (0-5, 0-3 frees), P McNulty, P Donaghy Subs: R Donnelly (0-1) for P McNulty (21 inj), C McShane (0-1) for P Donaghy (56), C McKenna for K McGeary (68),

Yellow cards: C Kilpatrick (5), F Burns (49)

Referee: B Cawley (Kildare)

Tyrone's Padraig McNulty suffered a fractured upper arm in a challenge with Odhran McFadden-Ferry Picture Margaret McLaughlin

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