Understrength Donegal put up strong showing in Tyrone

Donegal went down to Tyrone by three points in their eagerly awaited Dr. McKenna Cup encounter in Edendork, on Sunday afternoon.

Donegal went down to Tyrone by three points in their eagerly awaited Dr. McKenna Cup encounter in Edendork, on Sunday afternoon.

But this was far from a disaster for an experimental Donegal against a very strong Red Hand selection that fielded ten of last summer's championship team.

But while the football for the time of year was of a high quality, the main talking point at the final whistle was the straight red cards picked up by Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh and Donegal's Neil McGee in separate incidents.

The red cards marred what was an otherwise entertaining and at times competitive encounter that had a good edge to it for most of the 70 minutes with a youthful Donegal giving the experienced O'Neill County plenty to think about.

With the National League around the corner both Cavanagh and McGee now face automatic bans that rules them out of their county's opening games in the League which gets underway the weekend after next.

Despite the game having an edge to it, both sendings off seemed on the harsh side. Cavanagh, who was first to go, got his marching orders when he got involved in a melee among a number of players while McGee was sent for an early shower for what looked no more than a late shoulder charge on Brian McGuigan.

They both now face automatic four weeks bans though Jim McGuinness did confirm afterwards that Donegal are going to appeal the decision.

A first half Mark Donnelly goal that had a hint of good fortune about it was all that divided the sides at the final whistle.

Donnelly's goal came on 11 minutes after a he first timed a Martin Penrose strike to the net when it broke in the Donegal goalmouth. Penrose's effort for a point came back off the upright.

The goal propelled a rampant Tyrone into a 1-4 to 0-1 advantage after early points from Sean Cavanagh, McGuigan, Donnelly and Penrose.

And while Dermot Molloy added Donegal's second shortly after, the

Red Hands, with Sean Cavanagh and Brian McGuigan on the levers, moved seven clear (1-6 to 0-2) by the end of the first quarter, Cavanagh and Davy Harte adding to the Tyrone tally.

Things were looking ominous at this stage for the visitors but in a remarkable turnaround driven by Karl Lacey, Rory Kavanagh and Kevin Cassidy, points from Leo McLoone, Colm McFadden, Odhran MacNiallais, Karl Lacey and two apiece from Daniel McLaughlin and Dermot Molloy had Donegal back in the contest and their noses in front at half time 0-10 to 1-6.

Passages of the Donegal play in this period was a sight to behold as they carved open the Red Hand rearguard with a fast moving, slick passing brand of football with Leo McLoone, Daniel McLaughlin and Luke Keaney also playing a key role in the revival.

Despite being down to 14 men, Tyrone broke from the blocks in whirlwind fashion on the resumption. In the space of seven minutes points from Sean Cavanagh, Aidan Cassidy, Donnelly and Ryan McMenamin they had forged back into a three point, 1-10 to 0-10, lead.

With the breakneck pace of the first half talking its toll and the tempo of the game slowing dramatically Dermot Molloy and Martin Penrose traded points to leave it still a three point game going into the final quarter.

In one last push Donegal through Ryan McErlean and Colm McFadden cut the margin to a single point before Brian McGuigan and Aidan Cassidy rounded off the scoring to give the Red Hands their three point margin.

The game, which had been fixed for Healy Park, was moved to the East Tyrone venue when the Omagh ground was deemed unplayable due to frozen pitch following a noon pitch inspection.

The game also marked Mickey Harte's return to the Red Hands dugout six days after the funeral of his daughter Michaela Harte McAreavey following her tragic murder while on her honeymoon in Mauritius.

The Tyrone boss was greeted by Jim McGuinness on his arrival on the pitch with a handshake and a warm round of applause from the 2,000 or so supporters in attendance.

Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Kevin Mulhern; Luke Keaney, Leo McLoone (0-1), Kevin Cassidy; Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Conor Classon; Daniel McLaughlin (0-2), Dermot Molloy (0-3, 3f), Odhran MacNiallais (0-1); Karl Lacey (0-2), Ryan McErlean (0-1), Colm McFadden (0-2). Subs: Adrian Hanlon for O. MacNiallais (40); Frank McGlynn for R. Kavanagh inj (45); Odhran MacNiallais for D. McLaughlin (67).

Tyrone: Johnny Curran; Aidan McCrory, Cathal McCarron, Martin Swift; Davy Harte (0-1), Declan Carlin, Ryan McMenamin (0-1); Aidan Cassidy (0-2), Sean Cavanagh (0-3,3f); Colm Cavanagh, Brian McGuigan (0-2), Ciaran Girvan; Martin Penrose (0-2,1f), Enda McGinley, Mark Donnelly (1-2). Subs: Kevin Hughes for C. Girvan (h/t); Patrick McNiece for M. Donnelly (56).

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)