Tyrone must overturn recent Donegal dominance or risk another poor year

Donegal's Stephen McMenamin and Richie Donnelly of Tyrone go head to head during last year's Division One match at Ballybofey. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal's Stephen McMenamin and Richie Donnelly of Tyrone go head to head during last year's Division One match at Ballybofey. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

Allianz Football League Division One, round two: Tyrone v Donegal (O'Neills Healy Park, 2pm Sunday)

Quietly, almost under the radar, Donegal have dominated this rivalry recently.

Sure, Tyrone have won the bigger games – a 'Super Eights' decider, an Ulster Final, the most recent Championship clash, which was a provincial semi-final showdown in 2021.

Yet that last one is the exception to the rule of more recent times. The Tir Chonaill team has triumphed on five of the last six occasions, including the last three league meetings.

Make no mistake, this is one of those aforementioned bigger games.

Tyrone have to win, or else they'll be staring down the barrel of relegation and, worse still, putting their involvement in this year's Sam Maguire Cup at risk.

That's unlikely, but possible. In terms of the leading seven sides from the league which will progress to the Championship top 16, the top two teams from Division Two will be ranked above the two sides demoted from the top flight.

Of course, one of the Connacht trio in the top flight – Galway, Mayo, and Roscommon – will reach their provincial decider, and Kerry will almost certainly get to the Munster Final, so that frees up at least two slots in the rankings.

Still, a drop down is not in Red Hand interests. Reaching the Ulster Final will require beating Monaghan and then Derry or Fermanagh.

Another loss, after last weekend's sloppy setback away to Roscommon, will put Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher's men in serious trouble.

Tyrone head to Galway next, then to Mayo – and, who knows, they might lose in Castlebar sometime. The final stretch is home to Kerry, away to Monaghan, and home to Armagh.

Paddy Carr was expected to be the man under pressure, but instead the new Donegal boss made light of his perceived PMT (post-Murphy time) problem and led his team to an uplifting victory over All-Ireland SFC champions Kerry in Ballybofey.

Yes, it was a visiting team missing the phenomenal David Clifford, his brother Paudie, and Sean O'Shea, three massive losses from the Kingdom attack.

Still, the guts and positivity Donegal displayed, including rattling off unanswered seven points, were highly impressive. The hosts were also without Eoghan 'Ban' Gallagher, Ryan McHugh, Niall O'Donnell, and Peadar Mogan. The last-named should be available tomorrow, while defender Jamie Grant had 'flu' but helped DCU to the Sigerson Cup semi-finals in midweek.

Those absences presented opportunities which others grabbed. Wing-back Caolan McColgan was 'man of the match' - and subsequently voted the GAA's 'Footballer of the Week' - while fellow League debutant Johnny McGroddy also impressed, and young Conor O'Donnell scored three from play, with Daire O Baoill notching two.

The Kerry goal was a poor one from a Donegal perspective but Tyrone have far more worrying defensive issues to address. As they had done against Derry in the Dr McKenna Cup Final the previous weekend, the Red Hand rearguard shipped three goals against Roscommon.

A black card for Cormac Munroe did not help late on in Hyde Park, but Tyrone had already conceded two majors by Ciaran Murtagh.

At the risk of my backing counting against him, perhaps it's time Galbally's Conor Quinn got a look-in; if not a start, at least a run-out, even though he had a rare off-night in the Sigerson Cup for Ulster University against UCD and David Garland of Monaghan in particular.

Yet, as stated in last weekend's preview, it's more about attitude and approach than personnel for the Red Hands.

Tyrone have top quality players - but they're under-performing.

The team needs a shake-up, both literally and metaphorically. Darren McCurry, Richie Donnelly, Niall Sludden, and Frank Burns will be pushing for starts, or more game-time at least.

Given sufficient supply of ball, the likes of Darragh Canavan, McCurry, Cathal McShane, and Mattie Donnelly can score heavily enough to win. Brian Kennedy, Kieran McGeary, Conn Kilpatrick, and perhaps Richie Donnelly, should be able to more than hold their own around centrefield, even though Donegal have quality there too, in Jason McGee, Caolan McGonagle, and Hugh McFadden.

Donegal will relish the opportunity to keep Tyrone down, and send them closer to going down. With Armagh's Aidan O'Rourke and Derry's Paddy Bradley assisting Carr, the antipathy will not decrease.

The visitors won here two years ago. The Red Hands must get the upper hand or this season could end up even worse than last year.

Recent meetings:

2022 Division One, round four: Donegal 2-10 Tyrone 0-12

2021 Ulster SFC semi-final: Tyrone 0-23 Donegal 1-14

2021 Division One North, round one: Tyrone 0-16 Donegal 0-18

2020 Ulster SFC quarter-final: Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 1-11

2020 Division One, round six (October 18): Donegal 2-17 Tyrone 2-13

2019 Ulster SFC semi-final: Donegal 1-16 Tyrone 0-15

2018 All-Ireland quarter-finals, round three: Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 2-17

2018 Division One, round five: Tyrone 2-13 Donegal 1-10

2017 Ulster SFC semi-final: Tyrone 1-21 Donegal 1-12

2017 Division One, round five: Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-6

2016 Ulster SFC Final: Tyrone 0-13 Donegal 0-11.