Tyrone manager Feargal Logan was magnanimous in victory after a night of high drama at Celtic Park in the Ulster U-21 final.
Logan’s team had nine fingers on the Irish News Cup in the latter stages having managed - by and large - to keep Donegal at a three-point deficit for the most part, with a splendid goal from Conor Meyler on nine minutes the most important of the 21 as Tyrone were 1-10 to 0-10 ahead. Only seven minutes remained.
Although Donegal had been chipping away for long spells, to engulf their challenge the theory was that a goal was required. However, with none forthcoming, three successive points - something Donegal hadn’t managed all evening - would’ve done the trick.
Eamonn McGrath, Darach O’Connor and then a Stephen McBrearty point in the 58th minute levelled the contest and gave their following in the 3,239 on the Lone Moor Road flirtatious notions.
On the face of it, the betting in running would’ve had the team with momentum as the favourites. Maxi Curran’s Donegal were coming to life.
“We were hanging in for extra-time to be honest,” Logan said afterwards. “All the momentum was with Donegal and I thought we were totally on the ropes and out on our feet. They pegged us back and how they never got a score to go ahead I’ll never know.
“We were the better team in the first half but we just couldn’t get out to four. That made it a real tactical battle. Then they backed off our kick-outs totally - we had them in the pockets and picked them off coming forward - but then it was real cat and mouse stuff.”
With the mouse seemingly backed into the corner in injury time, it made one brave dart to save himself. Tyrone broke up towards the Brandywell end; first of all as an escape tactic but their composure on the ball meant they developed a chance instead of merely running down the clock. Daniel McNulty popped over the injury time free to give his side a 1-11 to 0-13 victory.
“How we dug it out and got a free and got up the field I will never know,” Logan added. “We’re delighted. It was a very close game and a painful one for Maxi and them lads. Your heart goes out to them but we’re just happy we hung on and won it. We had relative comfort but goals mean you’re always a sitting duck and I said that to Brian Dooher, ‘we’re sitting for a goal here and it’s really going to break our hearts’ but it never came.
“We’d known from the start with this group that we’ve serious talent and also serious leaders. Nobody backed off. We’re delighted to get the victory for Tyrone. What an addition Peter Canavan is to have around a football team and you can see the camaraderie and the spirit and how much he and Brian Dooher have given to it.
“The others in the backroom team have worked night and day with players. All I can do is thank everyone.”