Red hands rung dry by donegal
TYRONE and Armagh's 12-year stranglehold on the Ulster football title was finally ended when two second-half Donegal goals ousted the defending champions 2-6 to 0-9 in Clones yesterday.
A 66th-minute strike by Colm Fadden and a second in injury-time by substitute Dermot 'Brick' Molloy sent the Tir Chonaills through to their first Ulster final in five years where Derry now stand between them and their first provincial title since their famous All-Ireland breakthrough year in 1992.
Their late smash and grab finally ousted a legendary Tyrone side who certainly don't owe their supporters anything. But they will wonder about a series of 'what ifs'.
What if Kevin Hughes hadn't been sent off for getting two yellow cards within a minute of each other on the hour?
What if they hadn't lost full-back Joe McMahon to concussion after 50 minutes? McMahon had been doing particularly well on Donegal's danger man Michael Murphy.
And what if Peter Harte hadn't missed an easy free to equalise three minutes from the end of normal time?
The referee had made it particularly scoreable by bringing it forward 13m for 'dissent' and it should have swung the momentum back Tyrone's way.
But Harte, who had missed a similar free earlier, dropped it short, letting Donegal off the hook at a vital time.
It was still a game with 'draw' written all over it and substitute Martin Penrose equalised just before it moved into four minutes of injury-time and it was the 74th minute, with Donegal on the attack, when Patrick McBrearty over-cooked a pass to Michael Murphy and Tyrone's Martin Swift intercepted it.
But then, when Murphy tackled him, he fatally coughed it up, Murphy laid it through to the unmarked Molloy and the 'Brick' found the net to seal Donegal's memorable victory.
There was something poignant in watching Jim McGuinness' young tyros pass it around nine times to run down the clock; reducing this once-infallible Tyrone team to frustrated bystanders.
They're not out yet of course, and have drawn Longford in their first qualifier campaign in three years and, as Harte noted wryly, "the last time we were there (qualifiers) it didn't do us any harm so maybe that's a good omen!"
As Harte agreed, this game was lost in the first half, particularly the 10 minutes before half-time.
Owen Mulligan replaced Martin Penrose before throw-in (delayed 25 minutes because the hurling curtain-raiser went to extra-time) yet Tyrone looked unfazed, rattling off four unanswered points in the opening 12 minutes before 17-year-old corner-forward Patrick McBrearty opened Donegal's scoring from an impossible angle.
He was kept very quiet after that by Swift on a day when defenders from both sides completely dominated their men.
As Harte noted, his side scored six from 18 first-half chances while Donegal got four of five.
"That's the game in a nutshell, you don't need any other statistics," Harte said.
"They were much more economical, we weren't and the longer the game went on that way then the chance of a goal was always going to be significant and they got that first goal."
Donegal boss Jim McGuinness was typically philosophical afterwards.
"It wasn't a great game," he admitted. "But it was a real pressure-cooker for the players and to come through that and get the right result, I hope that'll stand to us."