Tyrone 1-13 Donegal 0-12
It will have no bearing on the big Ulster SFC clash later this year, but this certainly didn’t resemble a phoney war as Tyrone and Donegal engaged in a feisty battle at Healy Park.
The All-Ireland champions held nothing back as they launched themselves into a tempestuous North West derby, clearly intent on maintaining the upper hand they have held over their neighbours in recent seasons.
With two men sent off, including Footballer of the Year Michael Murphy, and nine yellow cards issued to their players, the Sam Maguire Cup holders had travelled to Omagh on serious business.
The loss of Murphy just before half-time, moments after he had a penalty brilliantly saved by man of the match Niall Morgan, had a significant bearing on the pattern of the remainder of a contest watched by a crowd of almost 10,000.
Tyrone, two points ahead at the break, played a more expansive game in the second half, stretching their opponents and picking off some eye-catching scores through Sean Cavanagh, Joe McMahon and Ryan McKenna.
But Donegal battled right to the end, and even after losing Neil Gallagher to a second booking (Tyrone had four players booked), they almost succeeded in their hunt for a goal, Morgan denying Colm McFadden with a splendid save.
In the end, Stephen O’Neill’s 40th minute goal condemned Donegal to a second league defeat and secured a third straight win for the Red Hands, who now look like strong contenders for a Division 1 semi-final spot.
Competitive as his team was, manager Jim McGuinness used the occasion as another opportunity to experiment.
Mark McHugh was deployed as an orthodox wing back, while All Star midfielder Neil Gallagher was pushed up as a target man at full-forward, although he reverted to the engine-room in the second half.
Donegal struggled to get the rub of the green on an afternoon when little went right for them.
Rory Kavanagh, their finest performer on the day, made a break straight from the throw-in, but rifled his shot against an upright.
Goalkeeper Morgan gave expression to his relief by knocking over a 45, a score that was cancelled out by the first of Colm McFadden’s five converted frees.
Tyrone were also denied by the woodwork as they stepped up the attacking thrust, Conor McAliskey sending in a shot which came back off a post.
Aidan McCrory and Joe McMahon stepped in to snuff a couple of Donegal attacks in the bud, and the Red Hands went two points ahead when Sean Cavanagh landed a trademark point.
Murphy displayed his class with a virtuoso score from wide on the right, and added two more, one from a 45, to bring the Sam Maguire Cup holders level by the 27th minute.
But Morgan was equally adept at the art of ground kicking, stroking a 47m free sweetly between the posts, before wing back Ronan McNamee sliced over a gem from long distance.
A dramatic end to the half saw Donegal awarded a penalty for Ryan McKenna’s foul on Ross Wherity.
Murphy’s well struck penalty was brilliantly saved by 21-year-old rookie Morgan, who dived to his right to get a firm hand on the ball. Following the goalmouth melee that ensued, Murphy, who had already been booked, received a second yellow card, and a booking for Neil Gallagher was later to have similar consequences.
Tyrone took a 0-6 to 0-4 lead into the break, and struck a major blow five minutes into the second half when O’Neill’s shot from a tight angle finished in the net.
And the Red Hands stretched the lead out to seven points with another spell of positive attacking football.
Morgan nailed another free, and points from O’Neill, Peter Harte and McKenna made it 1-11 to 0-7 with 50 minutes played. Gallagher was back at midfield following an unconvincing trial as target man, although manager Jim McGuinness is likely to take another look at Mark McHugh as a wing back.
McFadden and sub Paddy McBrearty both clipped over points as the 14 men of Donegal knuckled down to make a game of it.
Three McFadden frees and a Wherity effort made it a four points game in the closing stages, but Donegal were reduced to 13 men when Gallagher, for the second time, incurred the wrath of referee Joe McQuillan.
Nevertheless, there was one last push in the All-Ireland champions, who fashioned an incisive move that ended with McFadden whipping in a fierce shot, but Morgan was once again equal to the task.
Scorers for Tyrone: S O’Neill 1-2 (0-1f), N Morgan 0-3 (2f, 1 45), P Harte (2fs), S Cavanagh 0-2 each, R McKenna, Joe McMahon, R McNamee, Mark Donnelly 0-1 each.
Scorers for Donegal: C McFadden 0-5fs, M Murphy 0-3 (1 45), L McLoone, A Thompson, R Wherity, P McBrearty 0-1 each.
Subs for Tyrone: M Penrose for McAliskey (30), A Cassidy for Murphy (ht), C Cavanagh for McNeice (55), C Gormley for Justin McMahon (62), R O’Neill for Mark Donnelly (62).
Subs for Donegal: P McBrearty for McElhinney (ht), R McHugh for Bradley (47), D Molloy for M McHugh (56).
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