As a Donegal fan, it doesn’t get much better than an Ulster semi-final against Tyrone in Clones. The prospect of defeating Tyrone is mouth-watering, but the thought of listening to the gloating Red Handers sends a shiver down the spine.
The pre-match wait was spent trying to figure out what would be Donegal’s starting fifteen. Rory Kavanagh had been an injury doubt, but his long legs were easily identified. So, who was missing?
“Is Walsh out there?” “What about Eamon McGee?” “Well who’s missing then?” Then some clever sod decided to count the players. “There’s 16 players togged out there boys, mind games, we’re winning already.”
That optimism evaporated fairly quickly as the first half developed into a hugely competitive, cagey contest. The tackling was fierce and the intensity was more severe than Donegal’s previous outings.
The Tyrone fans were not impressed. “Horrible to watch” said one, somewhat oblivious to their own dissatisfaction when branded with the term ‘puke football’ in 2003.
But whilst the type of football was not to every patron’s pleasing, some of the scores were excellent, and the tactical battle on the sidelines was intriguing.
The half-time whistle was greeted with uncertainty and confidence. Tyrone’s ability to kick long-range points was worrying. Yet with the elements in Donegal’s favour and the panel’s fitness levels so high, I was still confident that we would be victorious.
The second half was much more pleasing, as Donegal gained the upper hand. Their pace and movement was superb, as they weaved through the Tyrone defence and kicked points with ease.
Karl Lacey ran half the pitch to score a crucial point. And when Colm McFadden put us four points ahead, the supporters were already clearing the calendar for July 22.
However, we were foolish to expect a team under the guidance of Mickey Harte to simply step aside. They drove back at us, and if it wasn’t for the heroics of Paul Durcan, they might have got back in it. Having been on the receiving end of some unfair criticism in the past, the supporters now appreciate his importance between the sticks.
The final whistle was greeted with sighs of relief and huge satisfaction. Having watched Tyrone set the benchmark for football in Ulster over the last decade, it was great to put back to back victories over them.
We now move on to the Ulster final against Down, full of hope and belief that we will retain the Anglo Celt Cup. As the Ulster council slogan goes, ‘Nothing beats being there’.