TYRONE 2-23 DONEGAL 0-6
By Barry O’Donnell
HOLDERS Tyrone hammered Donegal at Healy Park on Wednesday night to progress to a McKenna Cup semi-final clash with Fermanagh this Sunday in Clones and remain on course for six in a row in the January competition.
The visitors policy of fielding their under-21 team in the McKenna Cup may pay dividends in the long run but this was a painful lesson for Declan Bonner’s youngsters as the Red Hands went to town.
Goals in either half from Ronan McHugh and Cahir McCullagh put the seal on a polished performance from the home side, though in truth so impoverished was the resistance of Donegal that little could be read into the outcome.
The pattern for the night was established from the off, with Donegal setting up boot camp in their own half and inviting the hosts to unlock their massed rearguard.
The Tir Conail tactics worked initially with the Red Hands left frustrated and struggling for a cutting edge as they had to patiently probe for openings.
Cahir McCullagh slotted over to get Tyrone off and running in the second minute, only for midfielder Michael Langan to respond with a sweet left footed effort, which levelled matters up by the fourth minute.
The hosts were acutely aware that scoring difference was likely to determine their prospects of advancing into the semi-finals and once they hit their stride, the raw recruits in the Donegal ranks were simply left shell-shocked.
It was a virtual scoring procession for the rest of the first period, as the experienced Tyrone campaigners taught their youthful opponents a salutary lesson.
Darren McCurry in particular looked like a man keen to lay down a marker and he banged over four superb scores from play in the first period, putting the cap on some enterprising and eye-catching approach work.
He hit two of those efforts before the 12 minute mark, while Johnny Munroe and Niall McKenna also joined in the carnage. The impressive Langan did answer for Donegal, after Jason McGee had been denied a crack at goal thanks to a timely Padraig Hampsey tackle.
The Red Hands swooped for a 13 minute goal to copperfasten their spell of supremacy. Ronan O’Neill broke up a Donegal counter-attack and the ball was quickly transferred to Peter Harte, who in turn set up Ronan McHugh for a composed finish low past keeper Danny Rodgers.
Peter Harte compounded the agony for the visitors as he slotted over three frees, which sandwiched a Michael Carroll score at the other end.
There was to be no let up from Tyrone, as they sought to run up the scores. McCurry was twice more on target, one a booming conversion from fully 50m, while Ronan McHugh also split the posts.
The one negative note for the hosts in the first half was the black card meted out to Declan McClure for a foul on Langan, just past the half hour mark. His replacement Niall Sludden completed the first half scoring. (Half-time Tyrone 1-12 Donegal 0-3)
There was to be no let-up in intensity or determination from Tyrone as the action resumed, with results elsewhere on the night meaning they could ill-afford to let up.
Peter Harte, Ronan O’Neill, Niall Sludden and Cahir McCullagh all added to their personal tallies as a deflated Donegal toiled throughout the field to mount any sort of challenge.
When Donegal sub Jamie Brennan saw a fine shot crack the underside of the Tyrone bar, with Cathal McCarron mopping up the rebound, it summed up the visitors night.
Tyrone continued to slot over scores with almost monotonous regularity and Cahir McCullagh’s late fisted goal, from Ronan McNabb’s delivery, rounded off a satisfactory night’s work for the defending champions.
Darren McCurry (0-6), Ronan McHugh (1-2), Peter Harte (0-5, 2 frees), Ronan O’Neill (0-5,4 frees), Cahir McCullagh (1-1), Niall Sludden (0-2), Jonathan Munroe, Niall McKenna (0-1 each)
Michael Langan (0-3), Jason McGee, Michael Carroll, Jamie Brennan (0-1 each)
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)