For some, the meeting of Donegal and Tyrone in this weekend’s Ulster semi-final Kingspan Breffni Park will rekindle memories of their last semi-final meeting at the Cavan venue.
It was all of 25 years ago and the semi-final of 1994 with Donegal bidding for a place in their sixth Ulster final in-a-row, seventh if you add in the 1989 replay.
Donegal with 14 All-Ireland winners on board had defeated Antrim by three points in the first round. Mark Crossan replaced Martin Gavigan in defence from the team that defeated Dubin in the 1992 All-Ireland final.
Current Donegal manager Declan Bonner kicked five points, Tony Boyle hit a goal and a point, Martin McHugh (who had taken over the team captaincy from Anthony Molloy) posted two points and Barry McGowan, Anthony Molloy and Manus Boyle chipped in with a point each in a 1-12 to 1-9 win over the Saffrons in Casement Park.
An emerging Tyrone, with a young Peter Canavan leading the charge, had defeated Armagh by six points in their quarter-final clash in Healy Park. Canavan scored a goal and four points in the 3-10 to 1-10 win over the Orchard County, who had a young Diarmaid Marsden in their team, a member of the Armagh minor team defeated by Meath in the1992 All-Ireland minor final, the curtain- raiser to Donegal’s triumph over the Dubs.
Tyrone had sent out a warning with that six point win over Armagh. But Donegal, the experienced campaigners, still went into the tie as favourites.
But sadly that was not the way the game panned out. Tyrone won comfortably. Peter Canavan kicked six points in Tyrone’s 1-15 to 0-10 win. Declan Bonner with four points, three of them frees, top scored for Donegal while Tony Boyle scored three points, James McHugh (2) and Manus Boyle (free), were the Donegal scorers.
“My first recollection is that it was my last game for Donegal,” said the then midfielder Anthony Molloy.
“All in all it was not a good day for us and a lot of things went wrong for us. Martin McHugh was carried off injured near the end of the first half and I was taken off in the second half.
“The miles began to show. We had been together for a good few years and Tyrone were a young and emerging team and they were hungrier and much the better team on the day.
“We didn’t have the hunger and had no complaints. Tyrone were deserving winners and they went on the following year to reach the All-Ireland final and were unlucky to lose to Dublin in the final.
“It was the end of an era really. I didn’t play again. Martin McHugh and Joyce McMullin didn’t play again either and Brian McEniff retired. It was just one of those bad days and we had a few of them.”
The shoe is on the other foot this Saturday evening when Donegal and Tyrone square up once again in a last four clash in Kingspan Breffni Park.
Donegal are now the young and emerging team with Tyrone the more experienced outfit and Anthony Molloy is quite excited about Donegal’s prospects.
“We’ve got a lot of good young footballers coming through and when you combine them with Michael Murphy, Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath, Leo McLoone and Frank McGlynn we’ve a good combination.
“I only saw the Fermanagh game on television because the count was on for the election the same day. But I did see them in all their league games and I know there is a big difference between league and championship but I felt Declan (Bonner) used the league well to give the young lads experience.”
Anthony Molloy’s championship career spanned 11 seasons over two decades.
He feels it will be a totally different game to Donegal’s first round meeting with Fermanagh and he is expecting a more open game.
“The Fermanagh game went along predictable lines. We knew that Fermanagh would pack the defence but I would expect Saturday evening’s game to be a more open game. I certainly hope it will be the case and that Donegal and Tyrone don’t revert to their more defensive systems.
“The one thing we learned about Donegal from the Fermanagh game is they are capable of kicking points from long range and that is one way around a packed defence.”
As for how he sees the game go, the newly elected member of Donegal County Council feels it is a 50/50 game.
“I know Tyrone are the favourites and are more experienced and are beaten All-Ireland finalists from last year. But this is an Ulster championship game between two teams that are pretty evenly matched. I don’t expect there will be much in it at the finish and hopefully we will come out on the right side of the result.”