Even when Donegal beat Tyrone on their way to an Ulster title last year, we still weren’t quite convinced Jim McGuinness had finally had finally bridged the gap on Mickey Harte in terms of tactical awareness.
Having undergone massive upheaval over the winter months, it is quite evident Tyrone are a changed team but even with Ryan McMenamin, Philip Jordan, Kevin Hughes, Seán Cavanagh, Brian Dooher and Brian McGuigan on the field last year, Tyrone could have and some would argue, should have won.
They had 18 scoring chances in the first-half, only converting six, while Donegal only had five and converted four. The disrespect shown to Peter Harte by some Donegal players as he lined up to take his free kicks only adds to the intrigue ahead of this evening’s battle.
People have been lining up to heap praise on Donegal’s new found sense of adventure after their two games against Cavan and Derry yielded 1-16 and 2-13, respectively. It is impressive scoring by any standards but don’t get fooled by it. Both teams will defend in the modern way, space will be at a premium and the team that operates best in crowded areas and runs into dead ends less often will come through.
Forget all that happened last year — this is the biggest test of Jim McGuinness’ managerial career and it will be the most revealing in terms of how much his players have bought into his methods. Their opponents up to now have done Donegal no favours with their lack of imagination and Tyrone have been tested more by Armagh.
Talking about match-ups and positioning is pointless but in the final analysis, I expect Donegal to reinforce their new found superiority over Tyrone simply because they have the likes of Rory Kavanagh and Martin McElhinney to spring from the bench and look to have that pivotal change of gear required to raise the tempo beyond anything we’ve seen from Tyrone in a while.