Saturday 23 February 2019

Donegal to miss Gallagher as Harte's men come to Ballybofey

BIG GAME EXPERIENCE: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Pic: Sportsfile
BIG GAME EXPERIENCE: Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Pic: Sportsfile

IF you were to label Mickey Harte's mood in Omagh two weeks ago after his team lost to Dublin, you'd go with 'satisfied'.

Not overly jubilant or anything.

Just happy without trying to let on, given how his team had performed.

"Obviously we're not happy with the outcome or the result, and we're not looking about moral victories, 'oh you pushed them close or you ran them close'. It wasn't about that," he stressed.

"We intended to win this game. We felt we were capable of winning the game, and we didn't win it."

He added, however: "If we go and perform well in Ballybofey and get a result there, then we can say this was a great match for us, in preparation for that.

"But, that has to be done yet so until we arrive in Ballybofey and arrive out of it with a result, then we won't be able to say much about that."

Ballybofey is where hopes and dreams of a team like Tyrone go to die but there's a lot to be positive about from a Tyrone point of view.

The injury to full-back Ronan McNamee isn't ideal, but he has been named to start despite doubts over his fitness. Corner-back Cathal McCarron is also out for the rest of the season.


But Tyrone defend in such a way as to not expose their individual backs and Rory Brennan did quite well when he came on in McNamee's stead against Dublin.

Donegal on the other hand, might have a greater job of work replacing Eoghan Bán Gallagher, their revelation of the season so far. Gallagher suffered an elbow injury against Roscommon and the prognosis with regards his involvement here wasn't good.

His ability to back from deep in his own defence to the opposition's scoring zone in breakneck speed has been a major addition to Donegal's attacking game-plan.

His skill in the tackle has improved their defence this year, too.

What was hugely positive for manager Declan Bonner was the performance of Michael Murphy at full-forward in Hyde Park.

The Donegal captain put on an exhibition, kicking five from play and another four placed balls but Tyrone have always managed to wrap him up in the past when deployed so close to goal.

This is a major decision for Bonner.

Despite expectation that Murphy would spend at least some of the Dublin match at full-forward, particularly given the limited joy Donie Kington had there in the Leinster final, the Donegal management elected to keep Murphy out around the middle where his touches were greater but not nearly so deadly.

Against Roscommon, he won almost every ball that came his way and showed that despite spending so much of the last five years playing as an auxiliary midfielder, his ability to get out in front of his marker, turn and shoot hasn't dimmed in any noticeable way.


Yet if Bonner plays him at full-forward and Tyrone get enough bodies around Murphy to dull his scoring threat, management will be deemed tactically naive for marooning their best player to an out post where he had little relevance in the game.

Without the outlet of Paddy McBrearty, it may be hard to resist siting Murphy close to goal for at least some of tomorrow's game.

Tyrone have a greater depth of attacking options.

Mark Bradley looked sprightly when he came on against Dublin, kicking a point, while Kieran McGeary scored two at a stage in the game when it looked as though Tyrone might get something out of it.

They managed that not by freeing up their strong runners like Mattie Donnelly, Niall Sludden and Peter Harte - all of whom were zealously man-marked wherever they went - but by contriving a sustained period of pressure on Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs.

Tyrone won four in-a-row in the space of six minutes and turned three of those possessions into scores.

Donegal, meanwhile, have had serious issues with their restart this year, particularly against Dublin in Croke Park.

And it's an area Tyrone will maniacally target when the opportunity arises in Ballybofey tomorrow.

Both these teams have the capabilities to hurt with pace, particularly off turnovers and just now Tyrone's game-plan looks a little closer to optimum than Donegal's, particularly without McBrearty and Gallagher.

ODDS: Donegal 11/8, Draw 13/2, Tyrone 5/6


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