MATCH PREVIEW: A big ask for Tyrone

Donegal v Tyrone
Sunday, Celtic Park, 2pm

By Niall Gartland

THE punishing runs from deep, the disciplined defending, the economy in front of goal and the cutaway shots of Jim McGuinness on the sideline – last Saturday’s unexpected mauling of Derry was like booting up the time machine and setting the dial for to the summer of 2012.

Much of the post-match babble has centred on the repeated exposure of Derry’s wandering goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch, and obviously that didn’t come about by accident, but in a more general sense this was a supremely impressive performance from a resurgent Donegal team.

McGuinness was quoted as saying after the game that “one swallow doesn’t make a summer” and that’s fair enough – it will probably take a repeat performance against Tyrone this Sunday before the outside world rushes to proclaim Donegal as bona fide All-Ireland contenders.

For one thing, they had six months to prepare to ambush Derry. The amount of preparation that went into that game must’ve been off the charts – training ground drills repeated ad nauseam, videotape footage studied and dissected like it’s gone out of fashion, all the psychological stuff (‘belief’ is the word regularly trotted out by Donegal footballers in their post-match dealings lately).

Basically, without meaning to put a negative spin on what was the breakthrough performance of McGuinness, the sequel, it’s a big ask for Donegal to go out and produce a similarly dynamic display against Tyrone with such a brief window of preparation time.

At the same time, you wouldn’t put it past them. Fifteen Ulster Championship matches and 14 wins – that’s Donegal’s record in the provincial arena with McGuinness in charge and they’ve already picked up a winning habit in his second stint in the post, having gone unbeaten since their McKenna Cup loss to Derry (the one that got away, eh).

Forgive us for dedicating the opening salvo almost entirely to Donegal – they were just that good. By contrast, Tyrone made hard enough work of their opening round victory over Cavan last Sunday. Full marks to both teams for providing us with an incredible afternoon’s entertainment at a rocking Kingspan Breffni – 1-23 to 3-16 after extra-time says as much – but as has been the trend of the last few years, Tyrone’s performance left as many questions as answers.

Relinquishing an eight-point lead in the second half wasn’t in the script, but it wasn’t the first time that Tyrone have failed to press home their advantage in recent times. Padraig Hampsey’s importance to the cause was flagged up in the ten-minute spell he was sin-binned; they conceded 2-1 in that time-frame and it’s worth noting that they parted like the red sea against Dublin in his absence on the final day of the league, conceding five goals at Croke Park.

It speaks of a certain disjointedness and Tyrone will have been massively relieved to have got out of dodge against a Cavan side that came very close indeed to breaking their four-decade long hoodoo against the Red Hands.

But you know, there are reasons for optimism from a Tyrone perspective as well. Six players made their full championship debut against Cavan, three other newcomers were sprung from the bench, so it was a invaluable learning experience for the younger crew.

Mattie Donnelly played every single minute of a contest that was exhausting just to watch, a testament to the man after recovering from a potentially career-ending injury. They had plenty of scoring threat on the day with Darragh Canavan in scintillating form as per usual and they also showed an admirable degree of resilience and composure in extra-time even though a fairly makeshift looking team finished the game out.

Peter Harte and Conn Kilpatrick didn’t make the panel last weekend due to lingering injury problems and their involvement against Donegal is unclear at this stage, while Conor Meyler is a long-term absentee and is a massive miss. Big shoes to fill all round, but Tyrone do have a certain amount of cover, they thrive on being underdogs and you never really know what they might produce this weekend. Brian Dooher says that Donegal are “favourites by a country mile” but we certainly wouldn’t go that far.

Donegal’s victory over Derry was a tactical masterclass, but what was also evident was the sharpness of their players. Take someone like Ryan McHugh – a brilliant player down the years but his inter-county career threatened to fizzle out. He was sensational.

They’ve a massive physical presence around the centre of the park in the likes of Player of the Match Jason McGee, Ciarán Thompson and Caolan McGonagle while Ciarán Moore has been a real find in defence. And whatever about the struggles of last year, it wasn’t long ago that the bulk of this team featured in four Ulster finals in a five-year period spanning 2018 and 2022.

Goalkeepers could play a massive part in this game – Niall Morgan and Shaun Patton are two of the best in the game.

Donegal are sweating on the fitness of Patton who had to leave the fray against Derry due to a leg injury, but it would be a massive shock if he doesn’t make the starting line-up next weekend.

Tyrone will seek to bypass the midfield battle as best they can, especially if Kilpatrick remains out of the equation, and they have the requisite firepower to inflict damage on Donegal, but they’ll need to produce their best championship performance since 2021 if they’re to win this one.

It isn’t beyond their capabilities but we can only really go on current form-lines and Donegal look best placed to advance to the big day in Clones in a fortnight’s time.

2024 – Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15
DONEGAL booked their place in the Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals in their second competitive game under returning manager Jim McGuinness with a two-point victory over Tyrone at a foggy O’Neill’s Healy Park.

The away side led for almost the entire contest, going behind briefly to a Ciaran Daly goal late on, but finishing strongly despite missing a host of goal chances.Tyrone managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher handed out a series of debuts against a more experienced Donegal side that contained Ryan McHugh, who returned to the fold after missing the 2023 season.

Tyrone: N Morgan; C Devlin, N McCarron, A Clarke; T Quinn, M McKernan (0-1), N Devlin (0-1); B Kennedy (0-1), A Donaghy; D Jones, P Harte (0-2f), J Donaghy; C Cush, D Canavan (0-4, 3f), S O’Donnell
Subs: C Kilpatrick for Jones, C Quinn for McCarron, L McGarrity (0-1m) for Cush, B Cullen for Donaghy, C Daly (1-0) for A Donaghy, Tiarnan Quinn for Canavan, J Garrity for Harte

Donegal: S Patton; M Curran, B McCole, K McGettigan; R McHugh, C McGonagle, P Mogan (0-1); J McGee (0-1), M Langan; S O’Donnell (0-2), O Doherty, C Moore; P McBrearty (0-3f), O Gallen (0-4, 2f), J Brennan (0-2)
Subs: C Thompson for McGee, O Caulfield (0-1) for Doherty, L McGlynn for Brennan, S Martin for O’Donnell, S McMenamin for McCole, J Mac Ceallabhuí for McHugh.

2024 Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15 – McKenna Cup
2023 Donegal 0-13 Tyrone 1-18 – All-Ireland group
2023 Tyrone 0-16 Donegal 0-8 – National League
2022 Donegal 2-10 Tyrone 0-15 – National League
2021 Tyrone 0-23 Donegal 1-14 – Ulster SFC



Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15
Armagh 1-14 Tyrone 2-10

Tyrone 0-17 Roscommon 1-11
Derry 1-12 Tyrone 0-9
Tyrone 0-12 Galway 1-10
Tyrone 1-15 Mayo 1-11
Kerry 0-18 Tyrone 1-11
Tyrone 1-19 Monaghan 2-13
Dublin 5-18 Tyrone 0-12

Cavan 3-16 Tyrone 1-23


Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Tyrone 1-10 Donegal 0-15
Monaghan 0-11 Donegal 4-14
Derry 0-12 Donegal 0-6

Donegal 1-20 Cork 2-6
Cavan 0-12 Donegal 0-13
Donegal 2-16 Fermanagh 0-8
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Donegal 1-17 Louth 0-15
Kildare 1-8 Donegal 0-17
Donegal 1-18 Meath 1-10
Donegal 0-15 Armagh 0-14

Donegal 4-11 Derry 0-16


Darragh Canavan 2-36 (15f)
Darren McCurry 0-23 (15f)
Ciarán Daly 2-11 (1m)

Oisín Gallen 4-41 (13f, 2-0 pens, 5m, 1 45)
Patrick McBrearty 1-34 (26f)
Dáire Ó Baoill 4-9

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