Tyrone's chance for revenge
Three-time All-Ireland winner Brian McGuigan believes that, although admittedly the toughest draw that either team could have been given, the Ulster Championship 2013 opening round clash is a perfect opportunity for Tyrone to reap revenge on Donegal.
The Red Hands were just two points behind their Tir Chonail neighbours when referee David Coldrick blew the full-time whistle in their Ulster semi-final meeting back in June, with McGuigan having been sprung from the bench to help pull Tyrone back into contention.
While Tyrone exited the All-Ireland race at the hands of Kerry in the qualifiers, Donegal went on to achieve the ultimate glory by claiming the Sam Maguire.
The Gaelic Life columnist accepts that it’s a tough assignment, but believes the first round could prove to be a happy hunting ground for Mickey Harte’s men as they now spend the winter plotting an ambush on the All-Ireland winners.
“You could say that it’s the hardest draw Tyrone could have got, and I’m sure Donegal are saying the same. But from Tyrone’s perspective, I would always say that the first round is the best time to get any All-Ireland champions. That’s possibly when they can be caught cold.
“We saw this year that Donegal improved with every game they played. That tight match against ourselves certainly stood to Donegal, and they went on to become a much stronger force. If you’re going to win Ulster then you’re going to have to beat Donegal, and the first round I believe is the best opportunity for them to be caught out.
“If you look at last year, we were probably the team who got closest to Donegal all year. It shows you how close Tyrone are, even with the key personnel that Tyrone were missing. If Tyrone got them all back then I think they’d be closer still. It’s a big incentive and a big motivation to keep the players going over the winter.”
Already the debate has arisen about the venue for the game. Technically it’s a home draw for Donegal, but with the capacity of Ballybofey having been slashed to just 12,500 by the Slattery report earlier this year.
Donegal insist they can make the necessary improvements to bring that up to 18,000 by the time the Ulster Championship comes around. Naturally, McGuigan is in favour of moving the game to Clones or another suitable neutral venue as opposed to Tyrone having to enter the lions’ den.
“Of course if you’re Tyrone then you’d want the game at Clones or somewhere other than Ballybofey. The wee tight pitch wouldn’t suit Tyrone, the atmosphere wouldn’t suit Tyrone. If we could get them to Clones then it would be much better for Tyrone I reckon.”
That certainly wouldn’t rest comfortably with Donegal boss Jim McGuinness, who has insisted that his players ‘deserve’ a home draw.
“We would love to hold onto the home game at Ballybofey. I think the players deserve it. If we are lucky enough to get a home draw, then we should get to play it at home.
“For them to run out onto their home pitch as the defending Ulster and All-Ireland champions would be a special moment in their careers, and I think both they and their supporters deserve that chance.”
It’s the eighth year in a row that Donegal have been drawn at home, and Donegal officials have vowed to fight to keep the game at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey. However, the Donegal boss accepts that it’s a tough assignment that his side have been given as their bid for a third consecutive Ulster crown gets underway.
“As usual, if we want to win the Anglo-Celt we’re going to have to do it the hard way. The good thing about it is that we know what we’re facing up to here.”