Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Uladh

Ulster SFC: Donegal v Tyrone – Match Preview, Pivotal Players and Previous Meetings

April 28th, 2024

Donegal v Tyrone

Celtic Park, 2pm (Live on BBC2 NI)

Referee: Brendan Cawley (Cill Dara)

The great thing about the Ulster Senior Football Championship is that even though one script is torn up, there’s always another intriguing plot line just around the corner.

This fixture was supposed to be all about Derry manager Mickey Harte attempting to thwart his native county, where he won three All-Ireland titles and countless other provincial and underage honours.  However, Jim McGuinness had other ideas. His return to the Donegal hotseat may not have been as much of a curveball as Harte taking over the Oak Leafers, but it was a welcome move after a year of turmoil in Donegal.

After securing promotion from Division Two and clinch the league title with a win over Armagh in the Croke Park final, attention was turned to last weekend’s showdown with Derry.  Truth be told, McGuinness’s gaze was probably partially fixed on that game from the moment the draw was made in October.

Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. It may be slightly unfair to attribute Donegal’s win last weekend to good fortune, but it had a significant part to play. Tyrone will be determined that those opportunities don’t present themselves today.

McGuinness’s Championship mastery over Harte dates back to his days in charge of Tyrone and although the Reds Hands have changed management and lifted Sam Maguire since the Glenties man was last at the helm in Donegal, they’ll hold little fear for his Tir Chonaill side.  He was certainly the most interested of spectators at Kingspan Breffni last Sunday as the Red Hands were pushed all the way by Cavan.

It as an epic tussle and one the showcased the best of attacking talent at the disposal of both counties, but it was the deadly duo of Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry that inflicted the most damage and ensured Tyrone’s progress.

Donegal will have been relieved to see the return of Brendan McCole last weekend and he did great job keeping Shane McGuigan quiet. He’s likely to be detailed to shackle one of Tyrone’s dangermen today and that could have a major bearing on the outcome of the game.

They don’t need to be told twice about the threat of McCurry in particular. He was the top scorer when the side’s last met in the Ulster Championship in 2021.  In what was also semi-final tie, McCurry scored 0-7 in a chaotic match which saw Donegal defender Neil McGee forced off after five minutes due to injury and their talisman Michael Murphy sent off before the break.

The Red Hands went on to land Ulster and All-Ireland titles. Both teams have seen retirements since then, but they still retain a sizeable contingent from that match three years ago.  With three-in-a-row chasing Derry now out of the picture, the race for the Anglo-Celt is wide open and both these teams will spill every ounce of sweat to win it.


  1. Shaun Patton
  2. Mark Curran
  3. Brendan McCole
  4. Ciaran Moore
  5. Ryan McHugh
  6. Caolan McGonagle
  7. Peadar Mogan
  8. Jason McGee
  9. Michael Langan
  10. Shane O Donnell
  11. Ciaran Thompson
  12. Daire O Baoill
  13. Patrick McBrearty
  14. Oisin Gallen
  15. Niall O Donnell
  16. Gavin Mulreany
  17. Kevin McGettigan
  18. Stephen McMenamin
  19. Odhran Doherty
  20. Domhnall MacGiolla Bhride
  21. Jeaic MacCeallbhuí
  22. Hugh McFadden
  23. Jamie Brennan
  24. Aaron Doherty
  25. John Ross Molloy
  26. Cathal MacAonghása


  1. Niall Morgan
  2. Conall Devlin
  3. Padraig Hampsey
  4. Michael Mc Kernan
  5. Sean O’Donnell
  6. Matthew Donnelly
  7. Niall Devlin
  8. Brian Kennedy
  9. Aodhan Donaghy
  10. Ciaran Daly
  11. Kieran McGeary
  12. Joe Oguz
  13. Darren McCurry
  14. Darragh Canavan
  15. Ruairi Canavan
  16. Lorcan Quinn
  17. Aidan Clarke
  18. Ben Cullen
  19. Conor Cush
  20. Cormac Donnelly
  21. Conn Kilpatrick
  22. Nathan McCarron
  23. Lorcan McGarrity
  24. Cathal McShane
  25. Michael O’Neill
  26. Tiernan Quinn

Pivotal players 

Donegal – Niall O’Donnell 

Against Derry last weekend O’Donnell’s work-rate to force turnovers was massive, and he effectively nullified the attacking influence of defender Conor McCluskey which is often one of the Oakleaf county’s weapons. 

On the offensive side the St Eunan’s club man scored a point from play and deftly flicked Shaun Patton’s kickout into the path of Daire Ó Baoill for Donegal’s second goal, a move that represented a huge shift in momentum towards Jim McGuinness’ side in the second half. 

O’Donnell took a break from the county team last season and missed all of the Allianz League campaign up until the Division Two final through a hamstring injury sustained in club football last year, only making his return for the final day clash with Armagh. 

Like his fellow dynamic team mates Peadar Mogan and Ryan McHugh, his energy is boundless and he will cover every blade of the Celtic Park grass again today. 

Tyrone – Mattie Donnelly 

While the braying heat and undulating effort began to take a toll on Tyrone bodies in the late stages of last Sunday’s epic win over Cavan, Mattie Donnelly continued to source energy from somewhere to carry the Red Hand fight to the end of the 90-plus minutes of action.  

The Trillick stalwart began the game positioned deep in the Tyrone rearguard, where his experience and game sense was key to blotting out a lively Cavan attack, most notably producing a brilliant block to deny Ciaran Brady a goal.  

As the game ratcheted up in the second half, Donnelly’s influence grew and grew, kicking a left-footed point when every score was crucial.  

Some would have feared the 34-year-old’s Tyrone days were finally done when he sustained a serious injury last year, damaging his posterior cruciate ligament and breaking a shinbone. Defiantly he has returned however to take his place in the side once again. 

One of Tyrone’s modern greats, his presence is all the more important in the current setup given the amount fledgling players that have now stepped into the team around him. 

Previous Three Meetings 


Ulster SFC Semi Final 

Tír Eoghain 0-23 Dún na nGall 1-14 

Venue: Brewster Park 

Referee: Joe McQuillian (An Cabhán) 

The 2021 championship was played in a straight knockout format as the world began to re-open post Covid.  The crowd that turned up at Brewster Park were treated to a titanic tussle between these two.   

The dismissal of Donegal skipper Michael Murphy just before half time had a huge influence on the result.  Donegal battled gamely with 14 men and got to within a point with ten minutes to play but Tyrone finished strongly to win by six points. 

Kieran McGeary played a huge role in this victory as he was on his way to a Player of the Year award and Conor McKenna showed glimpses on his introduction to suggest he would play a key role in this campaign.  Darren McCurry kicked 0-7 while Patrick McBrearty top scored for Donegal with 0-5. 

Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; F Burns (0-01), M O’Neill, R Brennan; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; K McGeary (0-03), P Harte (0-02), C Meyler; D McCurry (0-07, 3f), M Donnelly (0-02), N Sludden (0-03). Subs: T McCann (0-03) for Brennan, C McKenna (0-01) for Kilpatrick, B McDonnell for Kennedy, C McShane (0-01, f) for O’Neill, N Kelly for McKernan. 

Donegal: S Patton; B McCole, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh, O McFadden Ferry, P Mogan (0-01); H McFadden, C McGonagle (1-00); C Thompson, N O’Donnell (0-02), M Langan (0-02, 1f); P McBrearty (0-05, 2f), M Murphy (0-02, 2f), J Brennan (0-02). Subs: S McMenamin for McGee, P Brennan for McFadden Ferry, O Mac Niallais for McFadden, E McHugh for J Brennan, A McLean for Mogan. 


USFC Quarter Final 

Dún na nGall 1-13 Tír Eoghain 1-11 

Venue: Páirc Mac Cumhaill 

Referee: Joe McQuillian (An Cabhán) 

In what materialised to be the final game of Mickey Harte’s tenure as Tyrone manager, Donegal edged them out in a really tight affair.  Forced into this first day of November, ground conditions were testing underfoot and Declan Bonner’s Donegal just found a way to win.   

After the first quarter, Tyrone led by four but a strong finish to the half by the home side assisted by a Peadar Mogan goal meant that Donegal led by 1-5 to 0-6 at the short whistle.  An early second half goal by debutant Darragh Canavan brought Tyrone back and when brother in law Peter Harte pointed with 8 minutes to go, the sides were tied at 1-11 apiece.  Up stepped Ciaran Thompson and Oisin Gallen to kick the vital scores and win the game.    

Donegal: S Patton; S McMenamin, N McGee, E Ban Gallagher; R McHugh, P Brennan (0-01), J McKelvey; H McFadden, C McGonigle; C Thompson (0-07, 5f), N O’Donnell, P Mogan; M Langan (1-02), M Murphy, J Brennan (0-02). Subs: E McHugh for McKelvey, A McClean for McGee, O Gallen (0-01) for O’Donnell, P McGrath for P Brennan, J McGee for McGonigle. 

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-01, ’45); L Rafferty, R McNamee, F Burns (0-01); T McCann, M O’Neill, M McKernan; B Kennedy, M Donnelly (0-01); K McGeary, C McKenna (0-01, f), C Meyler; D McCurry (0-03, 1f), P Harte (0-01), D Canavan (1-01). Subs: M Bradley (0-02) for McCurry, R Donnelly for O’Neill, P Hampsey for Kennedy, N Sludden for Canavan. 


USFC Semi Final 

Dún na nGall 1-16 Tír Eoghain 0-15 

Venue: Kingspan Breffni 

Referee: David Gough (An Mhí) 

A fast start by Donegal saw them to grab hold of this semi final clash from the early stages.  Jamie Brennan hit the net, Michael Murphy hit four points while a black card to Peter Harte after ten minutes rocked the Tyrone men.   

The scoreboard read 1-9 to 0-5 at half time and Donegal did enough to keep Tyrone at arms length.  A couple of good saves from Shaun Patton ensured a clean sheet and ultimately, a four point win for the Tir Chonaill men.   

Donegal: S Patton; P McGrath, N McGee, S McMenamin (0-01); R McHugh (0-01), N O’Donnell, E Ban Gallagher; H McFadden (0-01), J McGee; E McHugh (0-01), L McLoone, J Brennan (1-03); P McBrearty (0-03, 1f), M Murphy (0-05, 2d, 1 ’45), M Langan (0-01). Subs: C Thompson for McGee, D O Baoill for E McHugh, F McGlynn for McLoone, O Gallen for O’Donnell, P Brennan for J Brennan. 

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-02, 1f, 1 ’45); P Hampsey, R McNamee, L Rafferty; T McCann, B McDonnell, M McKernan; C Cavanagh, B Kennedy; M Donnelly (0-01), K McGeary (0-02), F Burns; C McShane (0-04, 3f), P Harte, R Donnelly (0-2). Subs: C McAliskey for Harte (BC), N Sludden for Cavanagh, R Brennan for Rafferty, D McCurry (0-03, 1f) for McDonnell, M Cassidy (0-01) for Burns, A McCrory for McCann. 

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