SPECTATORS have yet to return, but there was still a stir at Healy Park as Donegal defeated Tyrone to mark their return from lockdown.
Tyrone 0-16 Donegal 0-18
By Chris McNulty at Healy Park. Pictures by Evan Logan
The sending off of Michael O’Neill, six minutes into the second half, rocked Tyrone and Donegal – still down a number of key men – will be quite content with this outing.
Debutant Paul Donaghy scored ten points to announce himself as a new star in the making for Tyrone, but a new era dawned with the hosts registering 12 wides.
For the first time since July 2002 and a round four All-Ireland qualifier defeat against Sligo, Tyrone were under a manager other than Mickey Harte, whose long and storied association came to an end after Donegal’s defeat of the O’Neill County in November.
Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher took the reigns before Christmas and it was Dooher who wore the Bainisteoir’s coat here.
The scores were tied seven times in the first half, with Tyrone debutant Paul Donaghy making it 0-10 to 0-10 at the interval.
Tyrone were down to 14 men when Michael O’Neill was given his second booking on 41 minutes. O’Neill was previously booked for a 24th minute jostle with Peadar Mogan and, after his sending off, the home side scored just twice from play. O’Neill was perhaps unfortunate to be dismissed for a foul on Ryan McHugh.
It is a League campaign like no other, beginning in May when the Championship sounds and smells would usually be wafting at these venues. Even the weather obliged to make it appear like a normal League affair as a biting chill hung in the Healy Park air.
It was Donegal’s first outing since their fingers were removed from the Anglo Celt by Cavan in the Ulster final, 175 days ago.
There was a nip in the air in more ways than one, with O’Neill given his marching orders six minutes into the second half on a day when there seemed as much happening off the ball as on it. In the absence of supporters, the respective substitutes stepped in to aid the officials throughout.
It was certainly encouraging for a Donegal side that was down Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Stephen McMenamin, Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí and Odhrán McFadden-Ferry from its defensive ranks, while the returned Odhrán Mac Niallais was kept in reserve.
Michael Murphy hit six points in an excellent display and Neil McGee remains as formidable as ever, making his 188th Donegal appearance here and launching his 15th campaign in the county colours.
Murphy opened the scoring, getting onto the end of Michael Langan’s pass to score after only 11 seconds.
Donaghy drew the hosts level from a free and it was tit-for-tat for a period with a close-range Murphy free levelling it at 0-4 apiece at the water break.
Donegal had designs on a goal when they broke at pace with bodies pouring in, but Patrick McBrearty fired over after being put away following an exchange between Murphy and Ryan McHugh.
Another Murphy free from close range put Donegal in front and Jamie Brennan – a late inclusion in place of Daire Ó Baoill from the team that was released at lunchtime – swung over for Donegal’s third-in-a-row.
Langan might have had his compass set better when he tore through in the 23rd minute, but a big point from Murphy helped Donegal to lead by three, 0-8 to 0-5, soon after.
However, Donegal were pegged back and Donaghy’s free, moved in after Murphy took his protests with referee Joe McQuillan too far, had the ides level.
Ciaran Thompson’s fine point was cancelled out by a Niall Morgan ’45 and, with the final kick of the opening period, Donaghy – the top scorer in last year’s Tyrone senior football championship – evened the sums after Patrick McBrearty’s delicious soaring effort from the right-hand side inched Donegal’s noses in front.
O’Neill’s dismissal came as a hammer blow for the Red Hands and Donegal turned the screw with Brennan, Murphy and McBrearty opening up a three-point advantage.
A ’45 by Donaghy broke Tyrone’s second-half duck, 16 minutes in, but when Caolan McGonagle clipped over in the 56th minute Donegal’s lead was out by four.
Tyrone kept plugging, but Donegal held off their advances for a useful win as the countdown to the Ulster SFC opener at Down – which is just six weeks away – already appears to be on.
Donegal: Shaun Patton; Caolan Ward, Neil McGee, Brendan McCole; Ryan McHugh, Paul Brennan, Peadar Mogan (0-1); Hugh McFadden, Caolan McGonagle (0-1); Niall ff t’Donnell (0-1), Ciaran Thompson (0-2), Michael Langan (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-4, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-6, 3f), Jamie Brennan (0-2). Subs: Daire Ó Baoill for McFadden (half-time), Eoin McHugh for Ward (44), Oisin Gallen for J.Brennan (61), Andrew McClean for P.Brennan (61), Ethan O’Donnell for Langan (67), Eunan Doherty for O’Donnell (70+4).
Tyrone: Niall Morgan (0-1 ’45); Rory Brennan, Ronan McNamee, Padraig Hampsey; Michael Cassidy, Peter Harte, Michael O’Neill (0-1); Frank Burns, Brian Kennedy (0-1); Paul Donaghy (0-10, 6f, 1 ’45), Mattie Donnelly, Conor Meyler (0-1); Kieran McGeary, Conor McKenna (0-1), Richard Donnelly. Subs: Michael McKernan for McNamee (11), Cormac Munroe for Kennedy (half-time), Mark Bradley (0-1) for Donnelly (42), Niall Sludden for Cassidy (56), Darragh Canavan for McGeary (67).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).