Trying to analyse where it went wrong for Tyrone against Donegal on Sunday I could not help but feel that the better team had actually lost the game. The first twenty to twenty five minutes saw the Red Hands produce some of the best football of the past couple of years as they turned Donegal over time after time and switched play to great effect to create scoring opportunities. Tyrone players attacked and defended in waves and for that period of time it looked like there was only going to be one winner. The one great disappointment from a Tyrone point of view was that their dominance in terms of territory and possession were not reflected on the scoreboard. Several very scorable chances were missed and one or two players took the wrong options when colleagues were better placed.
However at that stage Tyrone were so much on top that few if any could have foreseen what transpired over the remainder of the game. Donegal had been all at sea when they made their first change bringing Michael Hegarty on after twenty minutes. Hegarty helped to steady the ship and his ball carrying and link up play gave the Donegal defence some much needed respite in the last ten minutes of the first half. Up until then the Tir Conaill men had been chasing shadows as they were swamped by a sea of white and red. The final ten minutes of the half changed the game as Donegal hit three unanswered points, all of which came from unforced errors by Tyrone, to go in at half time two behind when in fact they should have been trailing by at least ten. Those three scores, and Michael Murphy’s point after half time, were scores that Donegal did not have to work too hard to create. As sublime as some of Tyrone’s play was in that opening period they made several school boy errors which ultimately cost them the game.
Again in the second half balls were spilled that should have been retained and both of Donegal’s goals came when Tyrone failed to retain possession and the ball was turned over. But that is the nature of football and Donegal took full advantage of their chances when they were presented.
Tyrone’s dreams of a third Ulster title in a row are gone and they now have to face the difficult route of the qualifiers. Mickey Harte will have been very disappointed to have lost yesterday’s game but he knows his team were most unlucky to be beaten. Over the seventy plus minutes they were the better side but that is not to say they cannot improve. The time may have come to freshen up the side and introduce two or three new faces and possibly consider a change in role for the captain. Tyrone needed inspiration in the last ten minutes or so in that game and introducing a player like Brian Dooher at that time would have given the players and supporters a huge lift and could have made a massive difference to the outcome.