Lonesharkoy previews this weekend's crunch Super 8 tie between Donegal and Tyrone.
There might be four games down for decision in the All Ireland football championship this weekend, but in truth this is the only show in town. There will be no shadow boxing, no team with nothing to play for, no team already qualified with one foot into the next round – this is winner takes all, loser goes home championship football. And whilst I'll be in Croke Park on duty tomorrow, rest assured this (and the hurling replay of course!) will get plenty of attention later that evening.
On the face of it, Donegal haven’t lost a step since losing Paddy McBrearty to injury, but that simply doesn’t make sense – and when we examine both of Donegal’s Super 8 games so far, there is an asterisk attached to both. They went well against Dublin, but this was an odd game where Dublin were happy to win by a small amount, and Donegal seemed almost happy to lose by a small amount. There were one or two goal chances that could have changed the game, but overall it was played in a holding pattern as Declan Bonner’s side seemed content not to do too much damage to their scoring difference.
Then we had the game in Dr. Hyde Park, where by any stretch of the imagination, Roscommon were in a fragile mental state. Michael Murphy did the bulk of the damage, but again, this wasn’t a game where we really saw what Donegal were made of – they didn’t have to show us.
Tyrone on the other hand put in a devastating display against the Rossies in Croke Park, and then had to take on a very different Dublin side in Omagh. After listening to every pundit under the sun talk about how much home advantage was helping Dublin’s cause, Jim Gavin’s side needed to win that game. Even if they went on to win the All-Ireland, but did so after losing in Healy Park, it would have been seen as further evidence that Croke Park was giving them a big helping hand.
For those reasons, it’s a bit easier to trust Tyrone’s good current form, while it’s a bit harder to assess where Donegal are really at. They seem to have raised their game in McBrearty’s absence, but it defies logic that this wouldn’t take a toll at some point. Forget the All Stars – if there was an All-Ireland XV, McBrearty would be a nailed on selection – and unlike Kerry or Dublin, Donegal doesn’t have a replacement of the same calibre. Jamie Brennan and Odhrán Mac Niallais are talented ballers absolutely, but they aren’t consistent, four-points-from-play-on-a-middling-day forwards.
Ballybofey is worth a point or so, Ryan McHugh is in the form of his life and Michael Murphy will be the best player on the field. But Tyrone are getting that edge back, they can be incredibly clinical even when it seems like there is no threat, and it’s impossible to ignore their scoring rate. They are the better team here and should be clearer favourites than is the case.