Posted by Christy O'Connor
Thursday 14 July 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
In the early months of Jim McGuinness’ days as Donegal manager, he arranged a challenge game against Sligo in Ballyshannon. McGuinness was fired up. He began speaking about expectations. He talked about Armagh and Tyrone and how Donegal elevated them in their minds and yet those teams regarded Donegal as a joke.
He told the players a story about an U-21 match he played against Tyrone in Castlederg. From the first minute, Tyrone were in Donegal’s faces, mouthing and intimidating them. They played on the front foot and made Donegal react to them. “They carried themselves with a real sense of certainty,” wrote McGuinness in his book. “It was an attitude that let us know: We are Tyrone. Youse …..are nobody. It all communicated to us the idea that they were tougher and just better.”
Early in that game, the ball came into the square and McGuinness ended up on the ground going after it. The man marking him put his boot on his face before he had a chance to get up, turning the ball of his foot so that McGuinness was left with a ring of studs circling his eye. He was marked and cut and half shocked. The full-back just laughed.
Years later, McGuinness was telling his players that story for a reason. “The point was that we held Tyrone and teams like them in the height of respect and they regarded us as players to be toyed with, to mash down with the soles of their shoes,” wrote McGuinness. “I wanted to change the mindset of this Donegal team and to send them out onto a field with just this single belief: I don’t care where you are from. I’m from Donegal. I am ready. I am taking you on.”
McGuinness was obsessed with taking down Tyrone. In his book ‘Winning’ Rory Kavanagh said that McGuinness never stopped talking about Tyrone during his first season in charge in 2011. “At times it seemed as if they were the only team he was interested in talking about,” wrote Kavanagh. “Beating Tyrone will define us, he told us.”
In so many ways, overcoming Tyrone defined this generation of Donegal footballers. McGuinness completely changed the mindset, how Donegal perceived themselves, and how they were perceived by others. Nobody walked over them anymore. They have been the team trampling on every other side in Ulster, especially Tyrone. Tyrone are good enough to rattle an All-Ireland this season but their failure to beat Donegal over the last five years has been one of the defining realities of the modern Mickey Harte era.
Back in 2011, Tyrone were still reigning Ulster champions. They still had their sights set on another All-Ireland until the McGuinness machine rolled into town and changed everything. The Armagh-Tyrone domination of Ulster football which had stretched over 13 years was over. A new team was about to bring another fierce and distinct aura to the soul of Ulster football. That 2011 Ulster semi-final was incredibly tense and hard-hitting. It was total trench warfare. Tyrone were held to 0-9. Donegal only managed eight scores but it was enough to officially launch the McGuinness crusade. “Their players seemed to be in a little bit of shock by the end,” wrote McGuinness. “It must have been an odd sensation for them, to shake hands with us as losers.”
Tyrone had patented much of the template of modern football but Donegal represented a new game. A new way. “We were coming off the field that day thinking ‘What the hell happened there?” said Tyrone’s Philip Jordan a few years later. “You were kinda saying to yourself, ‘This is a different way of defensive football’.”
Tyrone have got well used to that sensation now of shaking hands with Donegal as the defeated team but, as they always have under Harte, Tyrone have continued to evolve. Tyrone’s running game now is broadly similar, possibly even more advanced, to the slick hard-running and counter-attacking game which carried Donegal to the 2012 All-Ireland title.
Most of the Tyrone players are speed machines built for lethal counter-attacking football. In the Ulster semi-final replay against Cavan, Tyrone just dropped the pedal and left their opponents in their vapour trail. Peter Harte scored two goals and blazed another chance over the bar. For all three chances, Harte began his support run from beyond midfield. Conor McAliskey nailed Tyrone’s third goal on a three-on-one break. Rory Brennan walked the fourth into the net. If Tyrone needed more goals, they could have scored eight or nine.
Donegal may not play with that same pace and verve any more but they are still powering forward. They are still as resolute and unbending as ever in Ulster. Sunday is their sixth successive Ulster final appearance, the first team since the great Down side of the 1960s to achieve that feat. And standing in their way are a Tyrone team hell-bent on atonement after five years of intense suffering at the hands of Donegal.
When Donegal defeated Tyrone in the league in March 2011, it established a trend that still holds; Donegal have beaten Tyrone in every league and championship meeting since that cold spring day five years ago.
That breakthrough championship win that summer was followed by two more huge summer victories against Tyrone in 2012 and 2013. When the sides met in their next big game – a key league match in 2015 - Donegal swatted Tyrone aside with the back of their hand, limiting them to just 0-6 again, and winning by ten points.
That defeat really stung Tyrone because it also effectively relegated them. Harte expressed huge disappointment in his players afterwards but Tyrone couldn’t summon that hurt to inspire them to victory when the teams met again six weeks later. That match in Ballybofey 14 months ago encapsulated everything about this rivalry, and what they both think of each other. Played in an atmosphere of naked hostility and hatred, 14 assorted cards, including two reds, were dished out while a brawl erupted at half-time before Donegal narrowly shaded a match that was compelling and competitive until the dying minutes.
There were times during that game when it seemed possible that Harte was about to concoct another of those brilliant acts of defiance but Tyrone ultimately couldn’t get the job done for the fourth time in five years. In two of the last three seasons, Tyrone have reached All-Ireland semi-finals after losing to Donegal, when Donegal themselves could go no further than an All-Ireland quarter-final. Yet serial defeat to Donegal has been a black stain on Harte’s modern legacy and it’s one he and his players are absolutely desperate to remove.
Harte has proven himself as one of the game’s greatest managers. His legacy is assured after winning three All-Irelands but to win another one now with a new team would possibly be his greatest achievement yet. This is a team on the move, and with serious All-Ireland ambitions, but cracking Donegal in this endlessly fascinating war of minds and bodies is all that matters to Tyrone for now.
Overcoming Tyrone has defined Donegal. Arresting that trend is what may now ultimately define Tyrone. Prior to 2012, Harte had never lost to the same team twice. Losing to Donegal four times has been unacceptable. A fifth successive defeat would be unthinkable. Tyrone have suffered enough. Their time is now.
There's general agreement on who our GAA experts are predicting will win all this weekends games, apart Longford/Cork and Galway/Roscommon on which we have split opinions;
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Mayo to win: 91%
Kildare to win: 7%
Cavan to win: 73%
Derry to win: 23%
Galway to win: 55%
Roscommon to win: 44%
Longford to win: 27%
Cork to win: 71%
Sligo to win: 56%
Clare to win: 40%
Donegal to win: 39%
Tyrone to win: 53%
Dublin to win: 98%
Westmeath to win: 1%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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