If ever there was a case of a single incident changing a game then Niall Morgan’s penalty save and Michael Murphy’s subsequent sending-off was the perfect example, writes Seamus Donnelly.
Up until that moment there had been little to separate the two teams, Tyrone holding a two point advantage heading towards half time.
A stunning save by Morgan diving at full stretch to his right denied Murphy the opportunity to put the All Ireland champions a point up and then in the ensuing melee the Donegal captain pick up his second yellow card of the contest from referee Joe McQuillan to give Tyrone a man advantage.
In front of nearly 10,000 spectators, Tyrone extended their winning run in 2013 to eight games and gave themselves a great confidence boost ahead of May’s meeting with the same opposition in thechampionship.
Tyrone very nearly got off to the worst possible start when Donegal were allowed to saunter through the Tyrone rearguard and Rory Kavanagh crashed his shot at goal off Niall Morgan’s right upright.
Morgan, however, opened the scoring a minute later when he expertly placed a 45 between the Donegal posts.
The game took a short while to settle with the Red Hands defence dealing well with a number of high balls directed at Neil Gallagherand Michael Murphy.
Murphy, who had been in terrific form over the last couple of weeks, and Clarke fought out a fascinating battle over the opening 35 minutes before Murphy eventually saw red.
Tyrone wing forwards Matthew Donnelly and Patrick McNeice spent most of the afternoon in their own half back line, with Donnelly spending most of the afternoon positioned just in front of the Tyrone full back line.
This ploy worked well for Tyrone helping to deny the dangerous Donegal full forward line of Murphy and McFadden space and simple scores.
The Red Hands were undoubtedly helped by some shoddy free taking from the Tir Connail men, both Murphy and McFadden guilty of missing fairly straight forward frees.
McFadden levelled matters 6 minutes in before Tyrone almost netted at the other end after Conor McAliskey got on the end of a Stephen O’Neill shot only to blast his effort of the post from close range.
Tyrone did assume the lead though a couple of minutes later as Mark Donnelly and Sean Cavanagh both found their range.
Cavanagh’s effort in particular came at the end of an excellent team move that began in the Tyrone half and involved the McMahon brothers and Aidan McCrory.
Michael Murphy demonstrated his class with a beautiful point from the right wing but Peter Harte cancelled this out at the other end with a simple free after Stephen O’Neill was fouled.
Donegal levelled the game 26 minutes in as Tyrone struggled somewhat at midfield. Michael Murphy got his second point from play after good work from Colm McFadden in the build up before Murphy thumped over a 45 to leave the game evenly poised.
Just as the game seemed to be getting away from Tyrone, they took a two point lead once again with Morgan again on target before Ronan McNamee floated over a tremendous point.
The drama didn’t end there, however, as a foul on Ross Wherity gave Donegal the chance to go a point up. Morgan produced a heroic save to deny Murphy and leave Tyrone two points clear at the break and after Murphy became involved in a post penalty scuffle he received his march orders from Joe McQuillan.
Tyrone emerged first at half time and in front of almost 10,000 spectators extended their lead as Joe McMahon fresh from his man of the match performance in the Railway Cup fired over from distance.
Jim McGuinness’s men showed they weren’t going to roll over for their neighbours however and closed the gap to a point, as Leo McLoone pointed from play after very patient build-up.
The Tyrone defence was defending well but they almost missed Anthony Thompson ghosting up the field the Tir Connail wing back slotting over to leave the minimum between the teams 4 minutes into the half.
If some elements of the Tyrone crowd were nervous they need not have been as Stephen O’Neill found himself on the end of a poor McNamee shot, the 2005 Footballer of the Year’s shot beat Paul Durcan and the despairing dive of Rory Kavanagh to loop up and into the goal.
This score was built on brilliantly by Tyrone as they kicked four of the next five points to open up a commanding lead.
Niall Morgan proved his worth once again with a splendid effort from just inside the 45 metre line before O’Neill added to his total with a beautiful effort from play.
A Peter Harte free and a Ryan McKenna point extended the lead, although these points were cancelled out by Paddy McBrearty and a
Points from Sean Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill kept the scoreboard ticking over as Donegal lost Neil Gallagher to a second yellow card in the dying moments of the game.
Tyrone now sit joint top of Division 1 heading in to next Sunday’s clash with Cork in Omagh, with three wins from three games. Building up a head of steam, the Red Hands will be hard to stop.