Tyrone secure first Ulster title since 2010

Seán Cavanagh was in inspirational form for Tyrone
Seán Cavanagh was in inspirational form for Tyrone


Thousands of Tyrone fans spilled onto the pitch in Clones as their captain Sean Cavanagh accepted the Anglo-Celt Trophy at the end of a tension-filled provincial decider. They could finally celebrate.

Their 'famine' is over as Mickey Harte's side march to the All-Ireland quarter-finals as provincial title holders for the first time in six seasons.

As a football game this was a mostly forgettable affair, though it did produce a wonderful absorbing finish – which included six minutes of injury time.

Tyrone's leaders Sean Cavanagh and Peter Harte stood up when it mattered most, hitting monster points and Tyrone's better bench probably proved decisive in the energy-sapping conditions.

Rory Brennan, who was excellent in the second half – he replaced the black carded Mattie Donnelly before half time – was one of three Tyrone substitutes who scored; Darren McCurry and Kieran McGeary also kicked vital points late on.

It was a bitterly disappointing outcome for Donegal who looked in pole position at half time when they led by three points. But they only managed to add four scores in the second half and failed to create a single goal-scoring opportunity – neither did Tyrone – and ran out of ideas at the finish.

When Michael Murphy missed a long-distance free to tie up the scores in injury time, it was symbolic of their failings and Tyrone took full advantage with late, late points from Harte and McGeary.

This is the second-successive Ulster final Donegal have lost and they now go into tomorrow's qualifier draw where they will be paired against either Mayo or Cork. Their All-Ireland dream is hanging by a thread.

At times Tyrone's fear of losing - they had lost to Donegal in their last four championship encounters - looked destined to destroy them. But having finally left their inhibitions behind they will prove formidable opposition in the All-Ireland series.

The first half was every bit as poor as last week's much-maligned Connacht decider, the only difference was that the attendance of 33,433 could enjoy the wonderful sunshine.

But their silence for most of the 40 minutes told its own tale; while some might suggest that it was a game of chess, in fact it looked more like a game of ludo.

There was little of the cut-and-thrust one expects in championship football - never mind an Ulster final - between two teams with ambitions of winning an All-Ireland.

Much of the problem stemmed from the fact that the two sides set up in almost identical fashion; they each left one player up front when they didn't have the ball. They both pulled 14 players behind the ball and set up stall behind their respective 45m lines and invited their opponents on.

And it was here that Donegal excelled, with Ryan McHugh essentially proving the difference between the sides in the first half. 

McHugh kicked three points from play and was fouled for one of Paddy McBrearty's two pointed frees as Donegal recovered from 0-2 down to deservedly lead 7-4 at the break.

The first half was a true horror story for Tyrone who went into the game as favourites. Donegal identified their key players up front such as Sean Cavanagh and Ronan O'Neill who were marked by the recalled Eamon McGee and his brother Neil respectively and scarcely gave them a shot at goal.

For some inexplicable reason Tyrone didn't attack in numbers as they had done in previous games this summer. Instead, they were reduced to taking shots from distance or having their non-designated shooters taking pot shots.

They hit nine first-half wides – three more than Donegal – and landed four shots short and then endured a double black card in the closing minutes of the first half when firstly key midfielder Mattie Donnelly crashed into Eoin McHugh after he had delivered a pass and then Cathal McShane pulled back Eamon McGee for a totally unnecessary foul.

So at the end of a woeful first half Donegal were in control. Tyrone were facing their biggest challenge since coming back from the death in the drawn Ulster final in 2003.

Peter Harte started at midfield for Tyrone in the second half though it was Michael Murphy who made the first telling contribution, winning the throw-in cutting through and setting up McBrearty for his first point from play.

Tyrone hit back-to-back points from Rory Brennan and Harte as the game of chess continued, though there was more urgency about the Tyrone play as they began to get their hits in.

Crucially, Tyrone pushed up on the Donegal kick-outs forcing Donegal's Mark Anthony McGinley to go long go with a brace of kick outs which they lost – and it was surprising that Tyrone didn't maintain this policy throughout the half.

Donegal looked to be running out of ideas but Tyrone had a lucky escape when Karl Lacey found corner back Ciaran Gillespie unmarked on the edge of the opposition square but Tiernan McCann executed a crucial block.

As the pace dropped to a snail's pace again Tyrone looked the slightly livelier side and they deservedly equalised in the 52nd minute when goalkeeper Niall Morgan bombed over a free from 48 metres.

By now the booing had began as the crowd grew restless with the constant handpassing and lateral movements but after Donegal held the ball for an extended period Odran McNiallais got a chance and put his side ahead again from distance.

Then came a huge turning point nine minutes from the end when the referee ignored a huge hit on Eamon McGee and Tyrone broke forward with Sean Cavanagh levelling the tie. Finally, as the game entered the closing stages a real contest broke out.

A monster free from Murphy was cancelled out by a point from substitute Darren McCurry; Christy Toye put Donegal back in front again but essentially the business end of the contest belonged to Tyrone, who finally threw caution to the wind with wonderful long-range points from Cavanagh, Peter Harte and substitute Kieran McGeary to secure their 14th provincial title and their first since 2010.

Donegal: M A McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Gillespie; E McGee, K Lacey, F McGlynn; R Kavanagh, O MacNiallais (0-2); R McHugh (0-3), A Thompson, E McHugh; P McBrearty (0-3, 2f), M Murphy (0-2, 1f), M O'Reilly. Subs: M McElhinney for Kavanagh 45m; M McHugh for Thompson 52m C Toye (0-1) for McGlynn 59m; O Gallagher for Gillespie 61; A Thompson for E McHugh 64m, H McFadden for McBrearty 70m

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-2, 2f); A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron (0-1); T McCann, J McMahon, P Harte (0-2); C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; C McShane (0-1), N Sludden (0-1), R McNabb; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh (0-3), R O'Neill Subs: R Brennan (0-1) for Donnelly (BC) 35m; M Bradley for McShane (BC) 35 +4; J McMunroe for O'Neill 52m; D McCurry (0-1) for McAliskey 61m; K McGeary (0-1) for McMahon

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)