The greatest provincial rivalry of this decade has often been damned as excuses for cynicism, over-aggression and downright defensive football.
Yet nothing has come close to Donegal-Tyrone in terms of competitiveness.
Close in proximity, close in familiarity but more than anything else close on the scoreboard, their meetings have been sustaining the first half of the football championship for years when, at least up to this season, there has been nothing worth shouting about.
More of the same is expected in Clones on Sunday.
At this stage, why there hasn’t been yet a draw is something of a mystery when it’s in these counties’ nature never to let the other one too far out of their sights.
Fifteen facts and figures from their five previous Ulster SFC clashes this decade bear that out:
- Donegal may have claimed victory in four of the five meetings since 2011 when they scored 2-6 to Tyrone’s 0-9 but the average margin between the sides is 2.2 points.
- That margin is all the more interesting when you consider Tyrone have only scored one goal against Donegal in those fixtures — Darren McCurry’s in the 2015 Ulster quarter-final (Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 1-10). Donegal have managed five — Colm McFadden, Dermot Molloy (both 2011), McFadden, Ross Wherity (2013) and Martin McElhinney (2015).
- Two of the games — 2012 (Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-10) and 2016 (Tyrone 0-13 Donegal 0-11) — ended goal-less when the difference between the teams on each occasion was two points.
- Of the six goals scored, three of them have come in the first half — McFadden’s 32nd minute goal in 2013, a game which finished Donegal 2-10 Tyrone 0-10, and McCurry’s (10th) and McElhinney’s (35th) in the 2015 fixture.
- If you are looking for an indication of what the winning score will be on Sunday, 13 or 14 total points works out as the average with 10 or 11 points as the losing total.
- Tyrone may have lost on four of the five but they led at half-time in two of them — 2011 and 2012. On each occasion, they registered six points to four and five from Donegal respectively. Donegal have been ahead after 35 minutes in the last three matches.
- The interval difference has been two points on three occasions and one on one occasion, 2012. The three-point half-time lead enjoyed by Donegal last year was the largest in the series. The average difference at halfway is two points.
- Donegal’s reputation as a third quarter/second half team has proved undoubted in this fixture — up until last year’s Ulster final, anyway. In the four previous meetings, they have won the second half by five, three, four and one point respectively. Tyrone turned around a five-point half-time deficit last year.
- Both the 2011 and 2016 games were decided by additional time scores, Molloy’s late goal six years ago and Tyrone’s brace of points in Clones last season. Only Paul Durcan and a post prevented another from Martin Penrose in the 2012 game.
- Inside the last 20 minutes of normal time, the teams have been level in three of the five meetings — in 2011 they entered injury-time all square before Molloy’s goal. In 2015, Tyrone drew level in the 51st minute while last year the teams weren’t separated until the fourth minute of additional time. In 2012 and 2013, Donegal managed to retain a lead from just before the 50th minute until the end.
- While a multitude of yellow cards have been shown, just five players have been sent off — Kevin Hughes (2011), McFadden (2012), Joe McMahon (2013), Neil Gallagher (2015) and Seán Cavanagh (2015). All of the dismissals were for two-card offences.
- In the pair’s two duels since the introduction of the black card, only Tyrone have picked them up — Cavanagh when being sent off in 2015 having previously been yellow carded and Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane in last year’s Ulster final.
- Not surprisingly, the GAA referees appointment committee recruit the leading match officials for such volatile occasions. Joe McQuillan has taken charge in three of the meetings — 2011, 2014 and 2015. David Coldrick is the man in the middle on Sunday having previously refereed the pair in 2012 and 2016.
- Of the 107 scores across the five meetings, surprisingly only 25, all points, have come from frees. A further three have been 45s.
- The now retired Colm McFadden is Donegal’s highest scorer in the meetings, having amassed 2-9 (0-3 frees). Michael Murphy is next best having produced 13 points, 10 of them frees and one 45. Seán Cavanagh is top scorer for Tyrone with 11 points, five of them frees. The retired Stephen O’Neill is second to him with five points. The most scored by one player in a game was McFadden in 2013. From play, McElhinney’s 1-2 is unrivalled. Nobody shoots the lights out. Nobody does because they’re not allowed to.