Tensions rise in Tyrone ahead of derby day

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

PLACE in the All-Ireland semi-final is the huge prize up for grabs in Sunday's derby clash of Tyrone and Donegal in Ballybofey.
A draw will be enough for the Red Hands to clinch second place in Group 2 of the Super 8s and claim a last four spot, but they'll be leaving nothing to chance, and will go all-out for the victory against their north-west neighbours.
Donegal have had the better of recent meetings of the counties at MacCumhaill Park, a venue that never fails to deliver memorable moments of drama, excitement and controversy when the sides collide.
This one will be no different, and a sell-out crowd is expected for this renewal of a fierce rivalry.
Team captain Mattie Donnelly warned that Tyrone are marching on a fortress, which no team has been able to breach since 2010.
Donegal have gone 21 games without defeat at the venue, and they will defend that proud record with all their might this weekend.
“It's well-documented how much pride they place on Ballybofey and it is a fortress in all senses of the word for them," he said.
“It's a massive task, as tough as it was to try to beat the All-Ireland champions. It is going to take another massive effort and that's all we can do, give it a massive effort and see where it takes us.
“The last day, the third game, it is going to be a bit like the last day of the Premiership, it's going to have that buzz about it. There are going to be twists and turns yet and hopefully we can come out on the right side of them."
“We are still in the hunt and we are going to Ballybofey and it's going to be another test. We are still there, so there is no point in being too downbeat about it.
“We will look at things that maybe let us down in our skill execution, and we will look to rectify that the next day."
Tyrone will have to cope with the in-form Michael Murphy, whether he players around midfield or at full forward, but they have the collective will and ability to curb the effectiveness of the All-Ireland winning captain who has returned to peak form.
Defenders Frank Burns, Michael McKernan and Tiernan McCann will take on the responsibility of curbing the home side's attacking collective, and they also pose a scoring threat themselves, contributing vital points throughout this year's championship.
And with Colm Cavanagh and Padraig Hampsey capable of making a bit impact around midfield, the Red Hands will look to create the scoring opportunities for Connor McAliskey, Richard Donnelly and Niall Sludden.
Midfielder Cavanagh believes a review of the Dublin game will help the Red Hands sort a few issues out and get things right for this weekend's massive test.
“While we're reasonably comfortable with parts of our performance, it wasn't enough to get us over the line, to get the victory," he said.
“We'll have to go back and analyse that game in great detail, because there was a lot in it. There was a lot of decision-making from us that was poor at times, so we'll have to go and evaluate that.
“That said, there was periods of play where we got on top and looked dangerous, but they're not the three-time All-Ireland champions for no reason, they're not the best team in the country for no reason. They were able to grind out that win and get the victory.
“We were in the game for long periods of time, but we knew Dublin were going to get purple patches and they did. At the start of the second half, they got the scores to get in front of us."
Cavanagh added: "But to be honest, we showed great character to get back int the game, we did a lot of good things, but if we look at our decision making throughout the game, possibly at times shot selection, we made a lot of mistakes.
“Against the Dublins of this world, they're going to punish you, and they did."
Donegal star Ryan McHugh believes having home advantage in Ballybofey won't be "any great advantage" against Tyrone.
McHugh is viewing the Ulster derby very much as a 50/50 game. "I think there will be huge support for both teams, they are neighbours after all, and I don't think Tyrone will be fazed by having to play in Ballybofey," he said.
“I honestly don't believe that playing at home will be any great advantage to us.
“We had hoped at the start of the year to get back on top in Ulster and thankfully we have achieved that but now we face a bigger challenge. We suffered a disappointment against Dublin in the Super8s before we picked ourselves up against Roscommon, but now comes this huge test against Tyrone who, like ourselves, are desperately keen to make it into the last four."
Meanwhile, former Tyrone star Philip Jordan believes Tyrone have managed to expose a few chinks in the Dublin armour.
“They remain, however, strong favourites to retain their All-Ireland crown. Dublin are probably a more controlled team now and are not blowing teams away quite as much as they did," he said in his RTE column.
“What we've seen in recent times is that if you push up on them and pressurise them high up the field you will get some joy. Mayo have demonstrated that in recent All-Ireland finals and Tyrone did it at various stages. They just didn't do it for long enough.
“You could sense the pressure that Dublin were under late on, the pressure that Stephen Cluxton was under with his kick outs. Of course, applying such pressure in the tight confines of Healy Park is one thing, doing it in Croke Park is an altogether different matter.
“Okay, so Dublin aren't quite at the level of the last two or three years but I think their pursuers aren't necessarily closing the gap.
“Are any of teams left in the championship as good as the Mayo sides that had Dublin rattled in '16 and '17? I don't think so. Some say Galway are now that team. I remain to be convinced."
Jordan said that from a Tyrone perspective, the performance was very encouraging, and that was important after last year's All-Ireland semi mauling.
“They were competitive against the Dubs and with a bit more luck they could have sneaked a draw. To that end, there is a positive mindset into the Donegal game. That said, Ballybofey has been a tough venue for Tyrone in what will be a typical Ulster championship match on 4 August.
“As for Donegal, the win over Roscommon saw Michael Murphy in full flow. The absence of Paddy McBrearty has taken away some of Donegal's scoring threat and Murphy, in a more advanced role against the Rossies, showed his undoubted talent. He's handful for any marker and will be a key presence on the Ballybofey sod. A game to savour."


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