“As hungry as Donegal were to get back to the pinnacle of Ulster football, Tyrone were hungrier.”

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Shane Ryan on Donegal V Tyrone

This game turned out to be the very defensive encounter that most had predicted, but it was nonetheless a very intriguing one. Naturally neither team wanted to give up any advantage, which resulted in a low scoring but tense 1st half, and Donegal 3 points in front. In a game such as this Donegal’s 3 point lead at half time should’ve been fairly valuable. And after Tyrone lost two men, Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane to black cards, Donegal were certainly in the driving seat. But as hungry as Donegal were to get back to the pinnacle of Ulster football, Tyrone were hungrier.

While the 1st half had Donegal on top, with Ryan McHugh particularly impressive, the 2nd saw Tyrone push up far more on the opposition, basically improve every facet of their game, and claw back the deficit, which had extended to 4 points early in the 2nd half. So for about an hour we watched a very tactical contest, with both teams conceding possession up the field, probing defences and looking for openings. For the final 10 minutes or so though the game finally came alive. Donegal had managed a number of impressive long range scores throughout the game, from the likes of McHugh and Odhran MacNiallas, and when they went a point up with normal time up it seemed like the day was theirs. This was when Tyrone suddenly started to find space and put together arguably the 3 best scores of the game, from man of the match Sean Cavanagh, Peter Harte and Keiran McGeary, to win by 2.

I never thought this game was going to be pretty, and for long periods it was almost like a game of chess, with slow build ups and huge numbers deployed behind the ball. In fairness though, it was this type of play that invited some of the very impressive long distance shooting we saw, which if you have the players to do it is one of the only ways to counteract the packed defences both teams employed. It’s a huge advantage to have and in the end paid off for Tyrone. With Tyrone’s 2nd half performance, and the way they closed out this game, they have shown themselves to be definitely back in the hunt, and are certainly very valid contenders for Sam. The speed they can move the ball up the pitch on the counter attack is something that will test any team they come across. Their intensity and hunger in the 2nd half, and probably superior fitness won this game for them, despite not going in front until injury time. For Donegal, they’ll obviously be hugely disappointed to have come so close, their next match will tell a lot about how much further they might go. I expect them to beat Cork, and if that happens there’s an excellent chance they’ll have Dublin in the quarters. We could yet see these two teams meet again in the final.

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