A statement of intent was delivered to the rest of the country at Clones yesterday; Donegal are now firmly amongst the All Ireland contenders and in beating a Tyrone team without hitting top gear the team illustrated the assurance and maturity that they’re operating off.
A large green and gold contingent made their way to Clones yesterday and it was clear that there was a level of supreme confidence amongst the fans around the town. All the pundits had tipped us to win and while there was no way that the game was going to be as straight forward as some had predicted, we knew our form pointed to victory.
The game panned out in a very similar manner to last year’s encounter; Tyrone did most of the running early on with Donegal happy to let them tire themselves out, safe in the knowledge that there was plenty more in the tank. While the goal chances at the end of the game caused many a heart palpitation around St Tiernach’s Park, Donegal always just seemed destined to come out on top and looked the better side.
A definite pattern has emerged in many of Donegal’s championship games this year and last - the opening exchanges usually involve opponents running at us full of intent and belief that they can defeat the system. Inevitably our strength and know-how wears them down and when we hit our purple patch we can put teams away. Tyrone didn’t score for over half an hour in the second half yesterday while we scored five points in the same period. Donegal are so patient and controlled that they have an inner belief that the scores will come - that belief probably wasn’t there in last year’s All-Ireland semi final but you get the feeling if the situation presents itself again the team would be able to push on that bit more rather than waiting for the finishing line to come to them.
Tyrone set the tone for a tactical chess game with their formation at throw in, Mickey Harte had a very clearly defined plan as to how to beat Donegal and they were close to pulling it off. Harte is the game’s eminent tactician, the only manager who can compete with him was the man in the other dugout. The game’s premier coaches went head to head and it was Donegal’s familiarity and know how of their own system coupled with their fitness and power that won the day.
The amount was of switches at throw-in was mind-boggling and indeed hard to decipher exactly what was going on; it took quite a while for the game to settle down into any kind of pattern. Both teams favoured short kickouts rather than risking losing possession by delivering into midfield which was somewhat strange from a Donegal point of view considering the form that Neil Gallagher is in at present.
His midfield partner, Ryan Bradley, had another terrific game yesterday and is playing like an All Star in the making if he keeps going. He is a prime example of the McGuinness effect having been a bit part player under previous bosses but thanks to the tutelage and guidance of Jim he has been transformed into an immense athlete of pace and power to go with the footballing talent that’s always been there.
Losing Neil McGee early on was a blow and indeed some of the goal chances Tyrone created through high balls in his absence was worrying. On one occasion Neil’s brother Eamonn was one on one with Stephen O’Neill, a situation you generally don’t see with this Donegal team - thankfully after he won the ball O'Neill's effort clipped the post.
Karl Lacey had another fine game, not allowing Peter Harte to dictate things too much while carrying a huge amount of ball for his side. He popped over one of his customary points near the end too and a fit and on-form Lacey is imperative for an All-Ireland challenge.
The chance of Ulster glory comes before that of course and Down stand in the way on July 22nd. They’re an exciting outfit with some top class forward talent but its hard to see how they will cope with the sheer size and speed of Donegal. Back to back titles would be an amazing achievement for this team and it’s a very real possibility. Three weeks time will tell all.