There have been plenty of firsts in the GAA this year, plenty of talking points, a fair share of controversies and lots of soul-searching.
There is plenty of the latter encapsulated within this game in Ballybofey: you have Tyrone desperately clinging on to their current game-plan despite it not getting them to the level that they wish.
On the other hand, you have Donegal who have abandoned the zonal defence, not completely but enough to make a huge difference.
There are lots of things at play here: Tyrone will be buoyed by how close they ran Dublin and how they extracted themselves from the tightest of situations against a feisty Meath team.
On the face of it, they were two pretty positive results; on closer inspection though, not so much.
My opinion on Dublin is that they have largely trained through these Super 8s.
I think this year we could see a fitter-than-ever Dublin from the semi-final stage with the luxury of a stroll in the park against Roscommon this weekend, a scary thought for all.
Tyrone’s win against Meath showed great character and maybe give us a glimpse of the leadership that perhaps we hadn’t seen from this group.
Finally, they seem to have lived up to the hype but, more importantly, stood up when the pressure was at its peak.
Still, more context is needed — Meath are not in the top 10 teams in GAA land, struggling badly in a mediocre Division 2.
Tyrone are well-suited to Croke Park being fit and powerful as they are, well capable of a relentless push to outscore the opposition and when they smell blood they will beat you by 20 points.
The last test Tyrone had in Ulster was Monaghan and they failed that pretty miserably.
Tyrone need to focus on their strengths, moving the ball without getting tackled, through the hands because for all their ability their full-forward line, including Richard Donnelly, find it very difficult to win first up possession under any pressure.
That was the most apparent flaw in their loss to Dublin.
Ball retention is their best hope for long-term success.
I do believe they know that but it’s now an ego thing, the “I’m tougher, bigger, stronger” thing exists within Tyrone like nowhere else.
They don’t want to just beat you, but also prove they can mix it.
These young lads need to play ball and bin the histrionics, adopt the mentality that it is indeed just good enough to win.
Their ratio of goal chance conversion is desperately poor. Sort these few things out and of course they can, not just beat Donegal but properly challenge Dublin.
Donegal hold all the aces this weekend: they are progressive, fresh, and full of youthful energy with a will to win.
Donegal’s new blood have done really well and arguably their result against Dublin was more impressive than Tyrone’s.
Yet, for me, that was their most disappointing performance because they abandoned their principles in favour of sitting back and playing on the counter-attack.
Those mixed messages are not ideal for young players. Under Declan Bonner, they have found an identity and they need to stick to those principles.
In the bottom half of the Premier League and the top of the Championship, they don’t focus so much on the summer transfer signings as the players they are able to hold onto.
Donegal spent a year without Odhrán MacNiallais and Leo McLoone but Bonner got them back this year and they have been crucial to their progression.
McLoone has been a constant with McNiallais really coming to the fore this season.
His versatility also gives Bonner so many options, both at midfield and full-forward.
He can be a bit ponderous and laboured on the ball at times but he is very effective and his ability to kick long-range points will be crucial this weekend.
I think Paul Brennan has flown under the radar for Donegal this year. Number six is the hardest position to fill on a football team now.
Does he man-mark or hold the space? Well, the good ones do a little bit of both while he adds physicality to that defence.
Neil McGee has been in and out of the team this year and when he has played he has looked suspect.
However, he will be the first man on the team-sheet for this one and will be suited to picking up Richard Donnelly, while Paddy McGrath will take Conor McAliskey.
McGee should revel in this opportunity, away from the wide open spaces of Croke Park and back to the safety blanket of Ballybofey, plenty of close up action and the protection of the tight pitch.
It’s ironic really when you consider the pitch in Omagh was narrowed for the visit of the Dubs and yet this weekend Tyrone will crave more space to manoeuvre away and in and out of Donegal’s ferocious tackling and improved work ethic.
For me, this weekend will still come down to Michael Murphy and McAliskey and which man’s free-taking stands up to the inspection of pressure under the microscope.
“I don’t fold under pressure, great athletes perform better under pressure, so put pressure on me,” Floyd Mayweather Jnr once said.
I think Donegal can stand up to that pressure more, especially Murphy. Donegal by a few.
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