THE SPORTING DIARY: Tyrone on Saturday is the real big one

This is the big one; the real test for Donegal when they face Tyrone in the Ulster championship on Saturday next on the new surface at Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan.

Donegal, going in as underdogs, are in a good place. Their form has gradually improved throughout the year and this will be their biggest test.

The vibes coming through are very positive. It is all about finishing out the game better than when the sides met in the Super 8s back on the August Bank Holiday last year.

There was a pointer in the game against Fermanagh with Frank McGlynn being introduced on 49 minutes. Last year against Tyrone he was replaced around that time and things went downhill afterwards. Expect the Glenfin man to be on the field when it matters on Saturday.

It was the introduction of substitutes which tilted the balance in favour of Tyrone in MacCumhaill Park last year. Donegal will have learned from that. Interestingly, the three Tyrone substitutes who did the damage against Donegal last year did not play any part for the Red Hand men against Antrim. Lee Brennan (who hit four points) has left the squad while goalscorers Harry Loughran and Declan McClure were not used.

It is very much a different Tyrone team and many would say an improved Tyrone team. It is noticeable that they have bigger and more physical players with one very impressive newcomer at half-back Michael Cassidy.

But on the other hand Donegal look to be stronger also. Eoghan Bán Gallagher was just back from injury for that game; Dáire Ó Baoill has come into the side while Jason McGee will also be tasting championship action against Tyrone for the first time.

And then there is Patrick McBrearty. How do you quantify his absence last year?

No doubt both sides will have their plans laid in advance for Saturday’s showdown. Michael Murphy (as he always does) and Patrick McBrearty will come in for close attention; as will Jamie Brennan.

But if those players are being closely watched, then there should be space for other players to step up to the mark. And if Donegal can pose a threat from a number of sources then space will open up for everybody.

Tyrone have been playing with some big men up front in recent games - notably Cathal McShane and the Donnellys. It is quite likely that Stephen McMenamin (probably the most improved Donegal player over the last 18 months) will get the task of shadowing McShane. Neil McGee has handled Richie Donnelly in the past and would relish that task once more.

The most important thing for Donegal is that they can seal off the centre of defence where Tyrone might come marauding. Fermanagh got through a couple of times and could have had goals and it is an area where Donegal need to be careful.

It is a mouthwatering tie and a game that many feel is the real Ulster final.

Fingers crossed that Donegal can give it a real go and when it comes down to the final 15 minutes we have learned from last year.

Hug fest in Rockfield

If you turned up at Rockfield National School on Friday night last for the launch of ‘Fermanagh’s Finest Living Legends’ then you were guaranteed a hug from the author, Gerry McLaughlin.

The Rockfield Community Centre, on the grounds where the old school stood, was a fitting venue for one of its former students, Gerry McLaughlin, to launch his first book.

And what a night it was with ‘the legend himself’ in flying form.

He had big hitters Peter Quinn, Fr Brian D’Arcy and Brian McEniff as guest speakers while another ‘legend’ Sylvester Maguire was a very efficient MC.

Whether Gerry is a Donegal man or a Fermanagh man remains unclear.

And the waters may be muddied even more if he gets his wish to bring out a Donegal Legends book.

Gerry’s book is available in the normal outlets in the local area with all proceeds from the venture going to the Rockfield Community Centre.