DONEGAL RUINED TYRONE’s dreams of a seventh Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup success on the bounce with a fine victory at the Athletic Grounds tonight.
Declan Bonner’s young guns have earned more plaudits than points this season but victories like last night’s at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh can only further justify his forward-thinking. It’s their first McKenna Cup since the pre-Jim McGuinness era of 2010.
The first half was rip-roaring. Both teams lined up man-to-man and the contest was much better for it.
Daire Ó Baoill, due to line out for his club Gaoth Dobhair in the final of the Bank of Ireland U21 Club Football Tournament Paddy McLarnon Cup tomorrow, made an excellent start on his first Donegal start.
His two points were a feature of a fine personal showing, while it was hard to keep up with the action as the momentum went from one side the other relentlessly.
When Ó Baoill smashed over his second point on Donegal’s fourth on seven minutes, it was 0-4 to 0-2 for Bonner’s team.
However, just a minute later, the net would bristle for the first time. Tyrone’s Harry Loughnan got in between a couple of Donegal defenders following a Conal McCann ball in and stabbed past Shaun Patton in the Donegal goal.
That made the score 1-4 to 1-2 for Mickey Harte’s side but only two minutes later, Martin McElhinney won the race to a throughball from Odhrán Mac Niallais and, from the ground too, dinked over the advancing Mickey O’Neill in the Tyrone goal.
With Donegal in the ascendancy, Paul Brennan, Mac Niallais and Martin O’Reilly added scores for a 1-7 to 1-2 lead by the 15th minute. But when Donegal began to miscue – hitting three wides in succession and Darren McCurry – who was having a speedy battle with Conor Morrison – and Ronan O’Neill scoring for a Tyrone team who began to filter men back, it was getting closer.
O’Reilly’s second point on 29 minutes was Donegal’s first score in 15 minutes and Patton in the Donegal goal had made a decent save with his feet from O’Neill. Tyrone, who carried a goal threat throughout with Donegal occasionally leaving the back door unlocked, were always a threat.
Frank McGlynn, on his first appearance of 2018, popping over, only for O’Neill to post a free at the other end, Donegal were 1-9 to 1-6 in front at half-time time.
Both Donegal and Tyrone were much changed from the sides that have began life in the Allianz League Division 1, with both parties having an eye on the Healy Park clash in two weeks’ time.
To date, Tyrone have just two points – following their narrow win over Kildare in Newbridge last weekend – and Donegal have had nothing but three hard luck tales following losses to Kerry, Galway and Dublin.
However, there were signs of optimism for Bonner’s team in those outings, going down by a single point in their opening two and then scraping back a seven-point deficit at Croke Park prior to a 0-20 to 0-15 reversal last Saturday night.
With Donegal due to make the short trek into Healy Park in two weeks’ time and more importance on the fixture, there may have been an element of gamesmanship from the respective managers, who have greater strength to call upon come then.
And last night, with Tyrone calling Cathal McShane, Matthew Donnelly and then Peter Harte in the opening moments of the second half and Donegal taking Michael Murphy into the fray, the temperature gauge was rising.
O’Neill, the Tyrone corner-forward, was becoming a more frequent involvee and the Omagh St Enda’s player managed to level things at 1-10 to 1-10 on 46 minutes.
Just when Donegal looked like they might wilt, Niall O’Donnell struck over points back to back in the 47th minute and a boomer from Murphy saw Donegal go three up, 1-13 to 1-10.
Tyrone, with O’Neill and Loughran on the mark, brought it back to one but again Donegal’s response was commendable. Paul Brennan scored his second point – another top class effort – as his fine start to 2018 continued before Murphy’s free put three between them.
Mattie Donnelly was sent off for two late yellow cards and Murphy – who missed three chances last week – scored his third deep into injury time to clinch it.
Donegal, despite being a little wet behind the ears, have used their experience of recent weeks and winning the competition can only bring confidence from both panel and manager.
Tyrone: Mickey O’Neill; Aidan McCrory, Cathal McCarron (0-1), Brendan Burns; Michael Cassidy, Pádraig Hampsey, Ronan McNabb; Declan McClure (0-1), Ben McDonnell; Kieran McGeary (0-1), Harry Loughran (1-1), Conal McCann (0-1); Darren McCurry (0-1), Ronan McHugh, Ronan O’Neill (0-6, 5f). Subs: Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane for Cassidy and McClure (41), Peter Harte for McGeary (43), Hugh Pat McGeary for McCrory (50), Conor Meyler for McDonnell (54), Niall Sludden for Loughnan (60)
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Stephen McMenamin, Eamonn Doherty, Conor Morrison; Daire Ó Baoill (0-2), Frank McGlynn (0-1), Paul Brennan (0-2); Odhrán Mac Niallais (0-1), Hugh McFadden; Mark McHugh, Martin McElhinney (1-1), Caolan McGonagle; Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Stephen McBrearty, Martin O’Reilly (0-2, 1f). Subs: Niall O’Donnell (0-3) for McBrearty (25), Michael Murphy (0-3, 2f) for McElhinney (42), Nathan Mullins for O’Reilly (45), Caolan Ward for McGlynn (54), Brendan McCole for McGonagle (64), Neil McGee for Doherty (70)
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).