TO almost borrow a phrase from our buddies across the water, Tyrone and Donegal will contest a relegation four-pointer in Saturday night’s rescheduled league clash at Healy Park.
With a solitary win to their respective names after four rounds of action, both sides have been dragged into a mini-championship at the foot of the table with Kildare and regular slow-starters Mayo.
While Tyrone haven’t exactly fired on all cylinders, Donegal have fared a little better in the performance stakes at the very least, and were desperately unlucky to lose out against Galway and Kerry.
Their second-choice goalkeeper Peter Boyle announced his surprise departure from the panel a week ago, but it wasn’t for a lack of confidence in new boss Declan Bonner. His comments to Donegal scribe Gerry McLaughlin will have raised a few eyebrows elsewhere in the province.
“I could have sat on the bench and got an Ulster medal but for me it would not have counted as anything. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Donegal can win an Ulster title, just look at that full-forward line. It is unbelievable and the management team as well is second to none. There is no stone left unturned between Declan and all his team.”
While Donegal were worthy winners against Tyrone in last month’s McKenna Cup final, it had all the trappings of a phoney war.
Both named experimental line-ups: Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty didn’t start for Donegal, while the Red Hands made thirteen changes from their previous match against Dublin. Tellingly, the game was relatively open by the standards of this oft-toxic rivalry.
The Red Hands have played in fits and starts in this year’s league campaign, but that was much the case last year as well. They’ve only scored two goals in four matches, averaging 14 points a game, but an optimistic reading would suggest that they should improve when the summer comes around.
They welcomed back All-Star midfielder Colm Cavanagh against Monaghan, and they showed a bit of grit in almost clawing back a four-point deficit in the closing stages. But even though Lee Brennan scored eight points from frees, their forwards never really caught fire – six points from play is a stark enough statistic.