It took all of Donegal’s experience to get over the line in a very tense and exciting Ulster Championship game in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
In the end the greater football ability of the likes of Karl Lacey, Frank McGlynn, Neil Gallagher, Martin McElhinney, Colm McFadden, Michael Murphy and Patrick McFadden got Donegal over the line.
Tyrone did all in their power to stifle Donegal and especially Michael Murphy. In the wet and miserable conditions, they took the lead late in the first half and were on level terms 15 minutes into the second period, but then Donegal closed out the game with three Michael Murphy placed balls, two frees and a ‘45’. One of the frees was from outside the 45m line.
In the end that was the difference between the sides as Tyrone recorded 11 wides to Donegal’s six.
Both teams served up a very tense encounter with plenty of off the ball battles which spilled over at half-time as both teams made their way to the tunnel.
The atmosphere was hot with the sell-out attendance in place from early in the day and and both teams responded in the first half. Donegal got off to a flyer with four points in nine minutes, Frank McGlynn, Patrick McBrearty, Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney.
Just when it seemed it was going their way, they left the gate open at the back and Peter Harte found Darren McCurry in acres of space and he had a simple task of beating Paul Durcan.
It was a score the game needed. Donegal hit back with Colm McFadden finding the target with his right and Martin McElhinney hitting a great point from distance on 14 minutes.
Tyrone then came into the game with Justin McMahon and Sean Cavanagh (free) getting them back within a point.
Donegal were pulling all their players back and they did not get another point until the 28th minute, Christy Toye through on goal but he elected to fist a point.
Tyrone had a purple patch between the 30th and 34th minutes with Sean Cavanagh (2), Mattie Donnelly and full-back Ronan McNamee pointing to go two ahead.
But there was further drama before the half-time whistle as Martin McElhinney finished to the net on 35 minutes after great work initially by Neil Gallagher. Frank McGlynn was involved finding Odhran MacNiallais free in front of goal. His shot for goal was blocked by Mickey O’Neill but McElhinney was following up to find the corner.
From the kick out, Colm McFadden returned the ball over the bar from just inside the 45m line to leave it 1-8 to 1-6 in favour of Donegal at the break.
Tyrone were on terms within three minutes of the restart with Sean Cavanagh and Connor McAlliskey pointing.
Patrick McBrearty and Karl Lacey responded with points but McAlliskey had Tyrone level again with two points by the 50th minute. But they were unable to add another score as Donegal pulled away with those three Murphy placed balls.
One of Murphy’s frees from 46m and close to the stand while the ‘45’, from his ‘wrong’ side was like an arrow going over the black spot.
The tension rose in the final quarter with Neil Gallagher getting a second yellow card to be followed minutes later by Sean Cavanagh (yellow and black).
Tyrone had a couple of half chances for goal with Paul Durcan denying Peter Harte with a finger tip save while Padraig McNulty palmed one on to a crossbar.
But Donegal held on and they now have an equally tough assignment against Armagh In four weeks’ time.
The win was a fourth win for Donegal over their neighbours in five years and is a great championship start under the stewardship of Rory Gallagher, who got the most out of his side. There was some great interchanging in the opening half and playing Colm McFadden in a withdrawn role proved a real winner for Donegal.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Ryan McHugh, Karl Lacey (0-1) Frank McGlynn (0-1); Neil Gallagher, Odhran MacNiallais; Martin O’Reilly, Martin McElhinney (1-2), Christy Toye (0-2); Patrick McBrearty (0-2), Michael Murphy (0-3, 2f, 45), Colm McFadden (0-2). Subs., Mark McHugh for O’Reilly 39; Anthony Thompson for Toye 68; David Walsh for McElhinney 71; Daniel McLaughlin for McFadden 72.
Tyrone: Michael O’Neill; Aidan McCrory, Ronan McNamee (0-1), Cathal McCarron; Ronan McNabb, Justin McMahon (0-1), Peter Harte; Colm Cavanagh, Cathal McShane; Rory Brennan, Mattie Donnelly (0-1), Barry Tierney; Darren McCurry (1-0), Sean Cavanagh (0-4,3f), Connor McAliskey (0-3). Subs., Padraig McNulty for McShane 42; Tiernan McCann for Tierney 54; Mark Bradley for McCurry 63; Ronan O’Neill for McAlliskey 68.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)