First things first, hats off to both sides for producing a commendably entertaining game of football in atrocious conditions. On a day which recalled the mudbath Ulster Final between Derry and Donegal, a match producing 26 scores was quite an achievement.
In the end, Donegal’s extra mileage in such scenarios was probably the deciding factor in their advancement into a position where they must be favoured to get hold of the Anglo Celt Cup once again. No doubt some would question a summation placing Donegal at a more advanced stage of readiness for an even higher stage given that it’s not all that long ago Mickey Harte’s men were the last ones standing in the face of the blue wave.
The thought process in this seat simply being that the Red Hand have the look of a group in a greater level of transition than were their opponents today. Undoubtedly, Jamie Brennan and Oisin Gallen and Ciaran Thompson have many years left ahead of them in the green and gold, but, they’ve already amassed quite an amount of big match expertise.
Gallen first appeared on my radar – and that of many others too probably – when coming on as a substitute and delivering a game changing performance in the National League Div. 2 Final against Meath in March 2019. Thereafter, it was expected the youngster – who reminds an aged observer of his current manager Declan Bonner – was supposedly destined for a career in the AFL. Presumably he did venture down under for a period of time but to his county’s immense benefit and the viewing public’s pleasure he is back.
With a vengeance. For, when the men from the Hills had their collective backsides in the bacon slicer it was Gallen and fellow substitute Andrew McLean who not only steadied the ship but pointed it homeward in a manner which demonstrated the evolution of their team in its reduction of dependency on Michael Murphy.
On the other side, Tyrone’s transition is in a different place. They very obviously missed the injured pair, Padraig Hampsey and Cathal McShane, and perhaps most of all, the retired Colm Cavanagh. A Tyrone team without a Cavanagh is hard enough for the rest of us to get used to, so you can only imagine what it must be like for Mickey Harte et al themselves.
However, for a brief period, a snapshot of what the future may hold for the O’Neill County nearly put them on the road to what would have been an unlikely victory. In that, the longer the game went on, the more influential Conor McKenna and, in particular, Darragh Canavan, became.
In the end though, Donegal’s accumulated know how saw them over the line. A position not helped, mind you, by the curios and frankly counter-productive decision to withdraw young Canavan when the game was still in the melting pot. It certainly backfired today but, as Colm O’Rourke pointed out during the broadcast, with McShane back and McKenna and Canavan with more experience under their belts, there will be few more potent attacking forces in the game.
Today was Donegal’s day, but Tyrone’s time will come.