Justin McMahon will be praised in his own county for keeping Donegal’s leader scoreless from play. Murphy’s deep-lying role in the first half certainly helped but he didn’t silence his marker so much as gag him.
Murphy knows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of referees. He was black-carded against Tyrone in the league and picked up a cumulative one-game ban but here he was more sinned against than a sinner. McMahon’s methods were murky and the Donegal crowd knew it. When he was eventually booked in the 63rd minute, the 17,435 Ballybofey attendance bellowed an ironic cheer.
Donegal were hardly innocents: they conceded over three times as many frees as Tyrone in the first half of a game fraught with unsightly tussles, most of them coming off the ball. The ugly wasn’t just ugly: it was grotesque and pockmarked an encounter that otherwise exhibited the wholesome aspects of the Ulster championship’s intensity.
The half-time row was just as unedifying for both teams as were the actions of members of both management teams accosting referee Joe McQuillan at half-time.
Attention should be paid to Michael O’Neill’s series of top-drawer saves, which ensured Tyrone remained in the game for as long as they did. Peter Harte’s first-half endeavour and creativity should be applauded although he slipped out of the game thereafter. Likewise, the return to form of Colm McFadden, coming-of-age display by Martin McElhinney and the consistency of effort personified by Frank McGlynn must be cited.
Tyrone will smart just as they did the last three times they’ve been dumped out of Ulster by Donegal these last five seasons. But considering how much their chances of reaching a quarter-final were dismissed beforehand, there will be some consolation in suggesting their relegation from Division 1 wasn’t evidence of decline but transition.
They should have done much more with the benefit of the wind in the first half yet found themselves four points to no score down after nine minutes. Harte’s quick-thinking set up Darren McCurry for a 10th-minute goal but they were soon again in arrears as Donegal bossed possession and were proving more economical with their shooting. McCurry’s three wides from frees, two of them in the first half, were ultimately costly.
Four unanswered points in as many minutes just after the half-hour mark pushed Tyrone two ahead before McElhinney found the net, making the most of O’Neill’s block on Odhrán Mac Niallais. Another Donegal point came from the ensuing kick-out and the home side led 1-8 to 1-6 at the interval.
Tyrone changed tactics and are now pushing up on Donegal and pressing them high. It's working. Very enjoyable half— Smaller Fish GAA (@SmallerFishGAA) May 17, 2015
“It was good to go in ahead at half-time and it looked as if we had the momentum but probably didn’t kick on then in the second half and had to grind it out again,” said Rory Gallagher. “We were edging it but that is the nature of us and Tyrone.”
Mickey Harte had made two late changes, introducing recent U21 All-Ireland winners Cathal McShane and Rory Brennan. The dummy team was an attempt to take the limelight off the pair but while Rory Brennan’s match-up with Ryan McHugh was a relatively even affair, Cathal McShane found Neil McGee a corrosive marker. “Why would you put those young fellas into that position?” said Harte of their inclusion. “There has to be a whole lot of talk about that and maybe drawn into comparisons with various things. I think you need to protect young players from time to time.”
McShane made way early in the second half as Murphy repositioned himself at the edge of the square at the other end. Tyrone’s four points of the half came in the opening 16 minutes, three of them fine scores from Conor McAliskey’s right boot. His final effort in the 51st minute to level matters at 1-10 apiece was his side’s last.
On three occasions, McQuillan decided it best to issue yellow cards to a pair of opposing players. The last of those saw Neil Gallagher, with ripped shirt, sent off for a second cautionable offence in the 64th minute having becoming involved with Sean Cavanagh off the ball. At a crucial juncture, his departure threatened to derail Donegal and Paul Durcan had to be at his athletic best to prevent a Peter Harte flick finding the net.
Three minutes later, Cavanagh followed Gallagher to the sideline after a high tackle, which McQuillan deemed a black card offence when yellow seemed more appropriate sanction. “I didn’t see it,” said Harte. “I don’t know why or how he got it. It was quite disappointing and us in the position to have an extra man in the last couple of minutes. For Sean of all people to be sent off, that was a big, big blow to our team morale.”
At the final whistle, a victorious Murphy extended his hand to an opponent still in argument with another Donegal player. His palm remained open until it was met. Murphy is no angel but on this occasion he was symbolic of the good winning out. Will that always be the case this summer?
M McElhinney (1-2); M Murphy (0-3, 2 frees, 1 45); C Toye, C McFadden, P McBrearty (0-2 each); F McGlynn, K Lacey (0-1 each).
S Cavanagh (0-4, 3 frees); D McCurry (1-0); C McAliskey (0-3); Justin McMahon, M Donnelly, R McNamee (0-1 each).
M McHugh for M O’Reilly (39); A Thompson for C Toye (67); D Walsh for M McElhinney (70+1); D McLaughlin for C McFadden (70+3).
P McNulty for C McShane (42); T McCann for B Tierney (55); M Bradley for D McCurry (64); R O’Neill for C McAliskey (67).
J McQuillan (Cavan)