Anyone that was at the National League match between Tyrone and Donegal in Omagh earlier in the year would have recognised the difference in the size and strength of the players on view that night. On that evening Donegal put it up to Tyrone for about 50 minutes; then Tyrone just took over. They just ran over us and they never took their foot of the throttle either.
I said at the time they were laying down a message for later in the year. As the match progressed that evening Tyrone introduced players from the bench that many Tyrone supporters who were sitting close to me suggested they were surprised that they didn’t start. The same could have been said about last Sunday.
Tyrone seemed to finish both games with a stronger side in the last 20 minutes than they started with. In many ways Mickey Harte has taken a lot from last year’s heavy defeat by Dublin and has seen how the reigning All-Ireland champions go about their business.
Donegal have had a decent championship. Yes, many are going to suggest that Monaghan’s defeat at the hands of Fermanagh handed us a handy Ulster championship, but you only can beat the teams that you have to play and if one of the favourites take their eye off the ball, well that’s their fault.
If we’re honest in our summing up of last Sunday’s game in MacCumhaill Park, we were gifted a goal just before half-time but we were always second best. They bossed us throughout. Even when we went four points ahead they never seemed to panic and Donegal never seemed to be in control, either of the pace of the game or the intensity in which it was played.
Tyrone controlled it throughout. Every time a Tyrone player was fouled, they sent out their medical team to slow down the game. Even when they scored their goal their Fir Uisce threw a spare ball onto the field as Shaun Patton attempted to restart the game. It took the referee at least three kickouts to sort it out.
Don’t get me wrong; there is not a team in the country, including ourselves, that are not at this sort of stuff, but Tyrone are certainly the masters of the dark arts.
That’s not taking away from their excellent second half display. We can all give out about it, but it was part of the game 50 years ago and it’s still part of the game. It’s all about the end result and Mickey Harte and his players got it spot on last Sunday.
Donegal were slow out of the blocks but to be fair once they got going they showed plenty. However, they didn’t create another goal chance outside of the one presented to Ryan McHugh and finished by Michael Murphy.
Tyrone were not allowing too many openings and Donegal had to work extremely hard to create scoring chances at the other end. Tyrone seemed to be able to take their scoring chances without the same pressure being applied on the shooter.
There was no doubting the Donegal players passion and endeavour but there were a number of occasions when we lacked that bit of experience in slowing the game down, keeping the ball tight instead of having a go from outside the scoring zones. Also the pressure put on Donegal when carrying the ball or going into the tackle was always on the edge and it took its toll in the end.
Tyrone sent out their first 15 to take as much out of Donegal as they could and sent in their replacements to see the game out. Those replacements scored two goals and four points from play before the final whistle went.
Much has been made of this point, and Donegal supporters have suggested that the Donegal management should have thrown on some of the younger lads into the battle. Maybe they had a point. However, nobody only the management or the players involved know how everyone is playing or if there are injuries in house that supporters or even media are aware about. We have to trust those who are put in charge and have delivered an Ulster championship, but we also have to be aware that in other counties their younger players are developing quicker.
It would be easy to be critical and find fault, but we have to be realistic. We are not a wealthy county when it comes to financing our teams. We struggle year after year to break even. Other counties have professional people involved in coaching, strength and conditioning, and there is a uniformity throughout their structures and while many in the county are working towards that goal, we always seem to be playing catch up.
Both our U-17s and U-20s struggled in their Ulster championship campaigns. The Centre of Excellence in Convoy is a long way from being finished and is a huge financial burden on the county board. However, with the success of the seniors winning Ulster there is a belief that we are going in the right direction.
Hopefully, they are right.
Both myself and Barry McGowan would like to thank all those who contributed to the Charity match in aid of the Seaman’s Mission and in memory of David “Croc” Meehan which was played in Fintra last weekend. A special mention must go to Val Murray and the Donegal Masters team who played on the evening; the members of the Killybegs GAA Club who helped out; the management and staff of the Bay View Hotel, Eugene McHugh, all the lads that turned out to play on the night, and, of course, Joe Brolly, who was there to promote his “Opt for Life “ campaign.
A great evening and night was had by all in memory of one of our best.