HAVING each enjoyed the luxury of facile opening day run-outs, a more severe examination of the title credentials of Tyrone and Donegal lies in store when they resume their fierce, often feisty, modern day rivalry at Clones this afternoon.
As expected the Tir Chonaill swept aside Ulster football’s perennial whipping boys Antrim 3-19 to 1-9 in the first round, while one week later the Red Hands began their defence of the Anglo-Celt trophy with a convincing 0-22 to 0-11 rout of Derry.
Those crushing victories enabled both counties to stroll comfortably into the last four of the Ulster Championship and made a mockery of northern football’s traditional mean streets reputation. However nothing will come easy at St Tiernach’s Park this weekend.
Having suffered four painful Championship reversals on the spin to Donegal over the past decade, Tyrone arrested the slide when they eased to a 0-13 to 0-11 triumph in a tension filled provincial decider last July.
Monster points from Sean Cavanagh and Peter Harte in the closing stages proved the pivotal scores as Mickey Harte’s troops belatedly shook off the air of caution and claustrophobia that had engulfed the occasion, to clinch a first Ulster senior crown in six seasons.
It was a match played out in a near funereal hush for long passages of play, with each side adopting a similarly defensive template, forcing the opposition to patiently push and probe for scoring opportunities once they ventured up around the respective ‘45’s. With space at a premium, it was a frustrating exercise at times, akin to breakdancing on a London rush hour Tube.
Tyrone’s line-out for last month’s contest with Derry showed half a dozen changes from the starting fifteen in the 2016 Ulster Final, though half of those alterations were enforced due to injuries to Cathal McCarron, Justin McMahon and Conor McAlliskey.
Those newbie recruits included Padraig Hampsey and Conall McCann who did their reputations no harm with assured and commanding performances in defence and midfield respectively. Sprightly second half subs David Mulgrew, Darren McCurry and Lee Brennan also showed they are champing at the bit for a starting jersey up front.
Sunday’s encounter though represents a significant step up in class. Despite amassing an impressive scoring tally of twenty-two points against the Oak Leafers, the Red Hands failure to carve out tangible goal opportunities (aside from Aidan McCrory’s second half effort) was again highlighted in the aftermath of the Celtic Park display.
MATCH REPORT, REACTION AND PICTURES IN MONDAY’S TYRONE HERALD
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