Donegal and Tyrone have dominated the Ulster Championship over the last decade, sharing seven of the last nine titles, with the winner of Saturday’s duel sure to be the favourites to capture the 2019 title. In the early part of the decade, a Jim McGuinness inspired Donegal dominated the rivalry while Tyrone have held the upper hand more recently, winning the last three meetings.
The most recent of course coming in the final game of last year’s Super 8s, where Tyrone travelled to Donegal and came away with an impressive victory, a victory that hurt Donegal according to their former full back Eamon McGee, “The big thing from last year was losing in MacCumhail Park to Tyrone, Donegal were on top of that rivalry and Tyrone have been on top this last few years so it would be nice to reverse that once again come this Saturday”.
Tyrone came through their opening two games unscathed, against division four sides Derry and Antrim, the former the only one providing a bit of a contest. Donegal overcame a tough challenge in Fermanagh and McGee reckons these sides would have expected to meet in this year’s semi final,
“When the draw was made at the start of the year, Donegal would have had one eye on Tyrone; they would have seen the other side of the draw and would have known they’d meet Tyrone in the semi final. This is what they would have planned for deep down, this Tyrone game, this is what the years been about”.
A lot has been made of Tyrone’s new attacking style of play, and having racked up 3-42 in the space of two games, Donegal will have to be tight at the back while also trying to outscore their opponents. The Gaoth Dobhair man doesn’t fear Tyrone’s new style however; in fact he believes it might actually suit Donegal,
“It’ll suit Donegal because it leaves Tyrone that wee bit more open at the back and we see Colm Cavanagh, for whatever reason, maybe it’s the injury, he’s just not playing the same. Is it because the systems changed about? Is it that the sweeper just isn’t the same the influence on the game? It’ll suit Donegal I think they way Tyrone are playing”.
A game-defining match up could see McGee’s brother, and one of the most experienced players on the team, Neil face off against Tyrone’s towering full forward Cathal McShane, although the older of the McGee brothers isn’t sure if we’ll witness that match up, “If Cathal McShane wants to make it as a household name as a full forward he has to come up against the best, I’m not saying Neil is the best at this stage of his career but he’s still got to be a proposition”.
“We might not even see that match up; Declan (Bonner) and Karl Lacey might sit down and say that Neil is better suited to someone else or Neil might not even start and they’ll go with x, y and z. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Neil will pick up Cathal McShane but he won’t be found wanting if he does and I’m sure McShane will enjoy the challenge”.
“McShane doesn’t exclusively play in their all the time so who’s going to take up that role? Neil’s a three time all star but he’s just not at that level anymore so it’ll be interesting, he’s in unbelievable shape but it’ll be an interesting match up to see if it’s Neil or will they go with different personnel.”
Having only came up against division four opposition so far in the Ulster Championship, there may be some fear in the Red Hand County that their side will be coming into the Donegal clash under-cooked, a fear that McGee doesn’t see as realistic, “Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin are about long enough, Stephen O’Neill’s involved too so I don’t think they’re going to let themselves be caught out like that”.
“They’re a division one team and they’re looked at as one of the top four teams in the country so they shouldn’t be and I don’t expect them to be caught cold. This stuff wouldn’t be said out loud to the media but they’ll tailor training to peak for a certain period and the boys will be peaking and Tyrone will be aiming to peak for this weekend”.
Known for playing on the edge, Eamon McGee was never one to back out of a challenge, however he was reluctant to say who he feels will be in the Ulster Final come Saturday night, “Going by previous years it’s going to be a niggily enough affair, tensions will be running high, Tyrone have started to play a wee bit more expansive with their kicking game and so have Donegal, so it’ll be married with that niggily, tense atmosphere and good football”.
“I hope Donegal take it, there’s still that residue of the rivalry left in me, a few tense moments down through the years against Tyrone so I’ll be going all out with Donegal. In saying that you have to go with Tyrone if you’re looking at it from a football perspective but I have to stick with my head and I’d find it hard to back Tyrone in a Tyrone Donegal game so I’ll just stay with Donegal”.