Peter Campbell email@example.com @dgldemocrat
Until last year’s Ulster final, Donegal had the upper hand. Indeed, for most of that game in St. Tiernach’s Park last July it remained that way.
But Donegal failed to push on when they had the finishing line in sight and two ‘wonder’ points from Sean Cavanagh and Peter Harte turned the game.
Both sides went to Croke Park with Tyrone losing out to Mayo in an almost copycat version of the Ulster final; they had Mayo for the taking but couldn’t land the killer punch.
Donegal went down fighting against champions-elect Dublin but it was to be a milestone game for many of the Tirconaill side with retirements and withdrawals leading to a sea-change in the panel for 2017.
Now, almost 12 months on Donegal and Tyrone collide once more, this time in the Ulster semi-final. Of the Donegal side that started last year’s Ulster final, only seven or eight will likely start on Sunday next.
Most of the new personnel are from the U-21 ranks with Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Jason McGee, Michael Carroll, Cian Mulligan, Jamie Brennan and Michael Langan all putting their hand up for starting places. Ciaran Thompson is nailed down as a starter now, while if Kieran Gillespie is fully fit, he will add to the selection headache for the six defensive positions. Caolan Ward did exceptionally well on his debut, while Eamonn Doherty is also available after suspension. Mark McHugh has also been showing good form at club level.
It is likely that Michael Murphy will partner Jason McGee at midfield; we can speculate that Mark Anthony McGinley, Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Frank McGlynn, Ryan McHugh, Ciaran Thompson and Martin O’Reilly will be in the starting 15 as well as the midfield pairing.
Which leaves only a handful of places up for grabs. Will Patrick McBrearty come back into the starting 15? It would be his first start in a Donegal jersey since February 12th against Roscommon in Dr. Hyde Park.
Will Hugh McFadden be given another chance to stake a claim to the full-forward position with Murphy almost certain to play the midfield role?
Has Jamie Brennan shrugged off the injury picked up against Antrim?
We will just have to wait to see what happens on Sunday.
Tyrone, too, will have a few changes. Padraig Hampsey has taken Cathal McCarron’s slot at corner-back but the Dromore man is fully fit again and could return.
Rory Brennan and Mark Bradley, impressive substitutes in last year’s Ulster final, are now firmly established. Mattie Donnelly, who was black carded in the Ulster final, has been less effective for the Red Hands in a more forward role.
However, Tyrone have unearthed what seems like a good player in Conall McCann, brother of Tiarnan McCann. Conall looked a real threat as an attacking midfielder against Derry and his runs will have to be tracked by Donegal on Sunday.
But when it comes down to it, Donegal need to look after Peter Harte and Sean Cavanagh, if they are to reach their seventh Ulster final in-a-row. It would be some achievement.
When we left Croke Park last August and we heard of the retirements of the likes of Eamon McGee, Colm McFadden, Rory Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher, expectations of being back in the mix in the summer of 2017 were not too high.
But after a good league campaign, hope again springs eternal.
Donegal 1-12, Tyrone 0-14 (maybe after a replay!)