This time last year we went into the Ulster semi-final against the same opposition (Tyrone) more in hope than in anticipation. While we had just won the National League Division Two title we still believed that we were not ready to compete with the likes of Tyrone, Down or Armagh.
Jim McGuinness and this present group of players have changed all that. Instead this weekend we go into the game knowing if Donegal can play anywhere near to their capabilities that we will be in another Ulster final. But if we don’t play to the standard that we have set ourselves over the last eighteen months then there is no better opposition to take advantage.
To be fair in last year’s game we probably rode our luck a bit and but for some terrible shooting and forward play from Tyrone the result might have been a bit different.
Mickey Harte and his backroom team will have thought long and hard on how they are going to approach this game and how they are going to break down that stubborn Donegal defence that they could not come to terms with last year.
Against Armagh, Tyrone had good performances from their more experienced players, the likes of Owen Mulligan, Stephen O’Neill, Martin Penrose and Joe McMahon all played with a renewed energy.
They kicked a total of 19 points in their first round game but they were given a lot of room by a inexperienced Armagh side.
In the last few weeks they have Brian McGuigan back in their squad to cover for the injuries they have picked up in the last few months. There is no better team than Tyrone to hit you when things are not going their way.
How many times in the past when we thought that many of the Tyrone players were finished have they come back to lift their county again and it’s something we will have to remember in the build up Saturday’s game.
While I would say that Tyrone are coming into the game having had a real test against Armagh, Donegal, on the other hand, have had little resistance against either Cavan or Derry.
While we know that the Donegal lads are very fit, we also know that they will be well prepared for the game but it’s hard to know if the first two games will have given them a false sense of security and will they be prepared for what I believe to be their hardest game for a long time.
Against Derry the Donegal team, as a whole, played extremely well and considering the team management didn’t make any changes until the last few minutes I expect the same team to start.
Karl Lacey may be given another marking role, probably on the likes of Martin Penrose, who was excellent against Armagh.
Neil McGee will pick up Stephen O’Neill and Frank McGlynn, who has been exceptional this year, could find himself picking up Peter Harte.
In the Derry game we controlled the middle of the field from start to finish. Big Neil Gallagher had his usual good game but it was the performance of Ryan Bradley that must have pleased the Donegal management. With the loss of Rory Kavanagh, who has been such an instrumental player for Donegal over the last few years, Ryan slotted right in and his bustling runs from the middle of the field and his ability to take his score could be a deciding factor.
Up front we will depend on the usual suspects. Murphy, McFadden and McBrearty have the ability to blow away any team in the country on their day and given the right supply of ball I don’t think the Tyrone defence can handle their power.
Mark McHugh will have his usual role helping out the full-back line and David Walsh, who had a fine game against Derry, will cover his half-back line along with Leo McLoone, who may find himself in a more defensive role.
Regardless of what happened in last year’s game, this game will be totally different. Tyrone will like the idea of going into the game knowing Donegal are favourites; the same pundits that deplored the way we played last year are now are biggest fans. For the first time in years there is a expectation around this Donegal side and I know we had expectations in the past and things didn’t work out as we would have liked. However, I think this team know exactly what they have to do and have the right plan in place to achieve that. But like every other team sport, it will come down to who wants it most and who is capable of taking it on the day. Let’s hope it’s us.