If there was one moment that summed up the difference between the two teams yesterday at St Tiernach’s Park then it was this incident:
Ciarán Thompson was on the ball in the middle of the field. There was nobody around him so he just took a leisurely solo. Next thing there were three Tyrone around him, they turned the ball over and Peter Harte kicked a point off his left foot. It showed me how big a transition it will be for this young Donegal team, a team that I had talked up this year.
We all remember on the first day of the 1995/96 season in the Premier League, Manchester United went down 3-1 at Aston Villa and Alan Hansen on Match of the Day famously said: “You’ll not win anything with kids.”
Sometimes as a young team you need something like this to fast-forward the learning process. United turned it around back then and although I’m not sure if Donegal can do it to the same degree, they’ll have a lot of soul searching in the next fortnight. They have potential and might go on a run in the qualifiers. But Rory Gallagher has a lot of holes to plug.
In the white-heat of Championship football, every mistake comes under the spotlight but the qualifiers are a little more forgiving. It might be what Donegal need to find their feet.
Donegal gave away a huge amount of possession in the middle third and that in turn meant their defence was under pressure, especially since they weren’t getting the chance to get players back.
Jim McGuinness knew six or seven years ago that Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath mightn’t necessarily win their one-on-ones so he devised a system.
I still in believe Donegal are trying to implement that system (or a version of it) but they’re giving away the ball too much.
Once you give the ball away against Tyrone you’re in trouble with their transition. Even look at the match-ups? What were the match-ups?
Tyrone seemed to me to just pick up whoever was closest to them. Pádraig Hampsey played a large part as a sweeper but if he found himself close to Michael Murphy then he picked him up and even managed to score two points from play himself.
Mickey Harte stood back and thought about what Donegal were expecting from Tyrone. The Donegal mindset was to expect Tyrone to be in their faces and abrasive and combative and all of those things that you associate with their rivals.
But, instead, they just played open football.
Harte has a nuance in what he did. No antics. They could find space, make Clones a big pitch and the majority of their scores came from the wings. That was a well-employed tactic.
Their discipline has improved and they don’t need to waste 20 minutes fighting with teams; they’re good enough to win on their own merit from the off.
Already, Tyrone look much improved from last year when they won Ulster.
In the latter stages of the first half yesterday, Tyrone outscored Donegal 0-10 to 0-1. At 0-12 to 0-5 up, the game was over at half-time before Tiernan McCann’s goal put the icing on the cake.
McCann’s goal, like many of the Tyrone scores, saw no pressure on the ball carrier. Tyrone were economical, having kicked one wide in the first half and only eight in total.
One of the things you could level at Tyrone is the fact they don’t have that marquee forward but do they need it? They had 11 scorers when they defeated Derry and the 12 yesterday against Donegal.
When you can get players on the end of moves they will have confidence. Scoring 0-22 against Derry and then 1-21 against Donegal is impressive stuff from Tyrone — all but two points yesterday were from play.
Harte has yet to throw Lee Brennan into Championship football and he has a huge future. Tyrone have another 10 or 12 players that can come into that team and, of course, when a team is going well it makes people eager on the panel as a whole with the competition for places.
The things that Tyrone can get over, the more games they can win, the more people will row in with Harte.
Tyrone are favourites for Ulster and definitely have the capabilities to reach an All-Ireland semi-final at least. Who knows? There’s an opening there for some team to come from the pack and someone like Tyrone are right up there. Semi-finals? Maybe they can go even further.