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6 talking points ahead of Donegal and Tyrone's Ulster championship clash

A war of attrition is on the cards in Ballybofey

Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh (left) and Donegal's Eamonn McGee will renew acquaintances on Sunday
Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh (left) and Donegal's Eamonn McGee will renew acquaintances on Sunday
Image: Presseye/Russell Pritchard/INPHO

1. Donegal just love upsetting Tyrone

Donegal have won their last three championship meetings against Tyrone, restricting the Red Hands to just 0-29 in the process.

The most recent summer clash between the counties was in 2013, when Colm McFadden and sub Ross Wherity scored the crucial goals:

Source: HappyPatricksDayIsland/YouTube

In 2012, Tyrone managed just 0-10 again, with Donegal scoring 0-12 before going on to lift the Sam Maguire Cup in September.

And in 2011, goals from Colm McFadden and Dermot Molloy secured a 2-9 to 0-6 victory:

Source: DonegalsRoadToCroker/YouTube

You have to go back as far as 2007 to find Tyrone’s last championship victory against Donegal and when Mickey Harte’s men were All-Ireland champions, Tyrone sent them crashing out of the Ulster series in 2004.

2. War of attrition in store?

Most likely. Mickey Harte has included three players noted for their defensive abilities in his half-forward line, namely Tiernan McCann, Mattie Donnelly and Barry Tierney.

The trio will be asked to track back and provide extra cover when required, while also pushing forward to support their midfielder and inside line as Tyrone look to break through Donegal’s massed ranks.

But Tyrone badly need to find a scoring touch as they averaged under 12 points per game in this year’s Allianz League campaign, a run of form that saw them relegated.

Mattie Donnelly Mattie Donnelly is named in the Tyrone attack but will carry out defensive duties Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In their eight League outings, Donegal averaged 14 points per game en route to a semi-final defeat to Cork, when they racked up 0-19.

The low point was undoubtedly a dismal haul of 1-4 against Monaghan but Donegal did bag 1-13 in their victory over Tyrone in Ballybofey, on a day when the visitors hit just 0-6, two from play.

If you’re a betting man or woman, a scoreline something like 0-13 to 0-10 is along expected lines on Sunday. It won’t be particularly high-scoring, that’s for sure.

3. Will Donegal play a little bit more expansive under Rory Gallagher?

Gallagher’s predecessor Jim McGuinness was renowned for his tactical nous and defensive strategies and the current incumbent won’t deviate too far from the norm.

But Donegal are capable of scoring and a glance at their scoring throughout the Allianz League campaign supports that.

They bagged 2-11 in defeat to Kerry in Tralee and 0-19 when losing to Cork in the semi-final at Croke Park, a string of those points admittedly consolation efforts registered in defeat.

Source: HappyPatricksDayIsland/YouTube

Donegal did score goals in five of their eight League outings but more than once in just one game, against Kerry.

Under Gallagher, Donegal conceded an average of just over 12 points per game throughout the group stages of the League, before leaking 4-11 to Cork in the last four.

The bottom line is that Donegal don’t score too much (average 14 points per match) and concede even less.

4. Consequences of defeat for either side

Stark, in a word. The winners will march on to an Ulster SFC quarter-final clash with Armagh but the losers face a long rebuilding process through the qualifiers.

Losing to Monaghan last year had a devastating impact on Tyrone.

They did rouse themselves to beat Louth in their first qualifier but were then bounced out of the All-Ireland series by Armagh, scoring 0-10 and losing by three.

Source: HappyPatricksDayIsland/YouTube

Tyrone haven’t won an Ulster title since 2010 and it’s difficult to see them emulating that feat, with four fences to clear before getting their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup.

But the winners on Sunday will gain huge momentum and the knowledge that they probably won’t meet their vanquished opponents again for the remainder of the season, with the likelihood of an early exit for the losers through the back door.

5. Will Sean Cavanagh work at full-forward?

It’s happened before for the skipper, who flourished on the edge of the opposition square in 2008.

And Cavanagh’s positioning could well have an impact similar to Kerry star Kieran Donaghy’s explosion at the latter end of the 2014 championship.

In a game where pre and post-match talk is sure to be dominated by massed defences, Cavanagh at full-forward presents Tyrone with the opposition to go long in an attempt to ‘beat the blanket.’

Source: Damian Kelly/YouTube

Cavanagh is well capable of scoring himself but livewire corner forwards Darren McCurry and Connor McAlliskey will be eager to pick up any crumbs that fall and punish Donegal.

Tyrone tried a number of full-forward options last year but none really worked and with Cavanagh there, he offers presence and a physical edge.

6. Joe Brolly will have a field day

Brace yourself for more fireworks from the pundit you either love or hate.

Brolly will have plenty to sink his teeth into as he is calling the shots alongside Pat Spillane, Colm O’Rourke and anchor Michael Lyster for RTÉ’s live coverage. 

Brolly is consistently beating the ‘Gaelic Football is dead’ drum and another dour encounter in Ballybofey will provide further evidence to back up his argument.

Source: greenflarevideos/YouTube

He’s already described the game in its current state as “muck” and we all agree that we could do with a few decent games to spice things up following a few turgid Allianz League affairs.

Dublin beat Monaghan and Cork cruised past Donegal in the League semi-finals and the final itself was forgettable as the Sky Blues demolished the Rebels.

But the forecast for good football on Sunday is bleak and for some real entertainment value, you may have to settle for a good old dose of Brolly’s unique analysis.

5 massive challenges facing Mickey Harte as Tyrone try to revive glory days

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About the author:

Jackie Cahill

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