Again it wasn’t pretty but Donegal are back in an Ulster final after a five year absence thanks to a gritty performance against Tyrone in St. Tiernach’s Park, Clones.
They had to call on all their reserves to get over the line with two goals in the final quarter turning a game that looked to be slipping from their grasp. Those two scores were their only scores in the final 22 minutes of the semi-final and they know that they will have to improve considerably before they meet Derry on July 17th.
While the goals - from Colm McFadden and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy - were well constructed and finished, Donegal are in the final thanks to a magnificent defensive display which saw all six defenders plus Paul Durcan in tremendous form.
Allied to that Mark McHugh had his best game in a Donegal shirt as extra cover, taking the ball out of defence time and time again. But when the Donegal management do the video analysis of this game, they will be relieved that Tyrone did not take their shooting boots to Clones on Sunday. Otherwise, it would have been the Red Hands who would be preparing for the Ulster final. Martin Penrose was unable to start because of a ‘flu bug and replacement freetaker Peter Harte had a bad day at the office.
The loss of Joe McMahon, through injury, 14 minutes into the second half was also a decisive factor as McMahon had the upper hand on a subdued Michael Murphy, who seemed to have the wrong studs as he slipped many times when gaining possession. Despite not being at his best, Murphy created both Donegal goals and also hit an inspirational point just after half-time.
Donegal seemed all at sea for most of the opening half, their tactical ploy of pulling men back leaving the front men out of touch. Their game plan was not working. Michael Murphy started at half-forward and even when moved to full-forward just couldn’t get into the match.
Tyrone had four points on the board inside 12 minutes, the fourth a gift as Donegal allowed Brian Dooher acres of room to take a Sean Cavanagh free and fire over.
It took the intervention of Neil McGee to provide the surge to give Donegal their opening score with Patrick McBrearty finding the range on 14 minutes.
The score did not garner Donegal as Tyrone continued to dominate and but for some very poor shooting (they had six first half wides), the margin could have been pushed out to unmanageable proportions.
They added two more points from Sean Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill (as Michael Hegarty was caught waiting for the ball) by the 26th minute.
But then, as if someone found the password, the Tir Chonaill men found their feet in the final minutes of the half. Conor Gormley, uncharacteristically, gave away possession and Colm McFadden set up Kevin Rafferty to score.
Mark McHugh, one of Donegal’s best in the opening half, stated the move which saw McFadden add another after Michael Hegarty was pulled down.
Donegal were tearing forward at this stage but were almost punished as a misplaced pass from Anthony Thompson saw Tyrone counter-attack with pace but Thompson made up for his error by getting back to make a last ditch block on Stephen O’Neill as he pulled the trigger in front of Paul Durcan.
There was even better to come as Donegal worked the ball upfield and Kevin Cassidy hit the point of the half from just inside the 45m line to leave just two between them at the break - Donegal 0-4 Tyrone 0-6.
The second half was not much better as a spectacle despite Kevin Cassidy taking up where he left off just before the break, finding Michael Murphy with a superb ball and the Glenswilly man found the range.
Peter Harte at last found the range for his only score of the game before Michael Hegarty generated a free at the other end for Murphy to point on 50 minutes - their last point of the contest.
Stephen O’Neill replied with a good score before Donegal got their first goal on 55 minutes. Mark McHugh found Michael Murphy on the ‘40’ and his measured fisted pass to Karl Lacey at speed opened the Tyrone defence. Lacey found Colm McFadden and he showed composure to turn onto his right and lose half of the Tyrone defence before firing to the net.
Tyone lost Kevin Hughes to a second yellow with nine minutes left while Harte failed to punish on two occasions, once when the ball was moved on to the 30m line, Kevin Rafferty fielding his effort on the goal line.
However, it looked as if the game was headed for a replay when substitute Martin Penrose fired over on the 70th minute. But two minutes later Donegal sealed their place in the Ulster final when Karl Lacey and Michael Hegarty combined to break up a Tyrone attack and the ball came downfield to Patrick McBrearty. His pass to Michael Murphy was wayward but Murphy dispossessed Martin Swift to send Dermot Molloy clear and he made no mistake from close range.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey, Kevin Cassidy (0-1); Rory Kavanagh, Kevin Rafferty (0-1); Mark McHugh, Martin McElhinney, Ryan Bradley; Patrick McBrearty (0-1), Michael Murphy (0-2,1f), Colm McFadden (1-1,1f). Subs., Michael Hegarty for McElhinney 24; Leo McLoone for Bradley 44; Dermot Molloy (1-0) for McLoone 62.
Tyrone: Pascal McConnell; Martin Swift, Joe McMahon, Ryan McMenamin; Davy Harte, Conor Gormley, Philip Jordan (0-1); Kevin Hughes, Sean Cavanagh (0-2,1f); Brian Dooher (0-1), Brian McGuigan, Peter Harte (0-1,f); Owen Mulligan (0-1), Stephen O’Neill (0-2), Mark Donnelly. Subs., Justin McMahon for Joe McMahon 49; Martin Penrose (0-1) for Mulligan 51; Tommy McGuigan for B McGuigan, Aidan Cassidy for S O’Neill, both 62; Sean Cavanagh for Dooher 69.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)
Man of the match
Sean Cavanagh was Tyrone’s best player while Mark McHugh and the entire Donegal defence were in the running. Anthony Thompson would surely have got the award with his fearless blocking, which denied Tyrone a goal (Stephen O’Neill) and point (Sean Cavanagh), but he gave the ball away a number of times. The award goes to Mark McHugh for his tireless running from start to finish.
The block by Anthony Thompson on Stephen O’Neill in first half added time which was followed by the point of the game by Stephen Cassidy was the first big turning point, while Michael Murphy’s pass to Karl Lacey which opened the Tyrone defence for Colm McFadden to find the net was the other big turning point.
Joe McQuillan would not have been popular in Donegal if they had lost this game. After the Kevin Hughes red card, he gave a number of decisions to Tyrone which they didn’t avail of. Also he was harsh on Neil McGee and Rory Kavanagh for overcarrying, the latter which saw the St. Eunan’s man point with minutes remaining and Donegal leading by one.