Holders Tyrone reached yet another Dr McKenna Cup final with a nine points win over Down at the Athletic Grounds.
They have won the trophy in seven of the last eight seasons, a dominant force in the pre-season competition throughout the Mickey Harte era, and they look determined to keep that run going, with Monaghan awaiting in next weekend’s final.
Conall McCann and substitute Ronan McHugh fired in the goals as the Red Hands survived a strong Mourne revival in the second half to secure another competitive game to bolster their preparations for the NFL, which begins at the end of the month.
Tyrone got off to the perfect start, with the quick-thinking Niall Sludden slipping a quickly taken free-kick to Conall McCann, who buried his shot in the bottom corner of the net past John O’Hare.
It was a sign of what was to come during the remainder of a first half that the wind-assisted Red Hands dominated.
Darren McCurry and Ronan O’Neill had edged them five clear by the time full-forward Sean Doran fetched a Liam Middleton delivery to open Down’s account in the seventh minute.
Conor Poland further reduced the deficit, but they were soon on the back foot again, and Tyrone hit five scores on the spin, two of them from McCann, to take a firm grip on the contest.
But for the efforts of Kevin McKernan, Darren O’Hagan and Ross Carr at the back, the damage could have been greater, but the Mourne men were frustrated time and again as they pressed forward only to be turned back by a defence packed with bodies.
And Tyrone were able to break at pace to threaten up front, with McCurry adding a couple more to his mounting tally.
Conor Poland did cause some worries to the Red Hand rearguard, hitting a couple of points, but it was McCurry who brought his tally to six with his fourth from play, sending the holders in with a commanding 11 points advantage, 1-12 to 0-4.
As expected, Down pressed with a more direct approach after the restart, with Liam Kerr making an impact off the bench, and another sub, Donal O’Hare, sharpening the cutting edge of attack.
O’Hare, Poland, Pat Havern and Darren O’Hagan were on target, and in the 55th minute, they crafted a goal. Gerard Collins and Kerr combined smartly, and it was Cory Quinn whose first-time shot beat Benny Gallen.
Despite losing midfielder Johnny Flynn to the sin bin, Down narrowed the gap back to four through Ross McGarry, but having scored just one point in almost half an hour, the Red Hands found a late salvo to put the game to bed.
Substitute Ronan McHugh blasted home a goal from a neat Tiernan McCann pass, and points from his Aghyaran team-mates Gallen (’45) and Allstar Ronan McNamee gave the McKenna Cup holders comfortable passage to the decider.
Tyrone: B Gallen (0-1, ’45); HP McGeary, R McNamee (0-1), N Kelly; C McLaughlin, A McCrory, C Grimes; B McDonnell (0-1), F Burns (0-1); N Sludden, K Coney, D McCurry (0-7, 3f); K McGeary, C McCann (1-2), R O’Neill (0-2, 1f).
Subs: T McCann for Sludden (40), R McHugh (1-1) for McGeary (40), M Cassidy for HP McGeary (46), M O’Neill for McLaughlin (50)
Down: J O’Hare; G Collins, K McKernan, R McAleenan; P Laverty, D O’Hagan (0-1), R Carr; L Middleton, J Flynn; C Poland (0-3), C Quinn (1-0), B O’Hagan; C Harney, S Dornan (0-1), P Havern (0-2, 1f).
Subs: L Kerr (0-1, f) for Middleton (h-t), D O’Hare (0-1, f) for Harney (h-t), D Guinness for Carr (h-t), R McGarry (0-1) for Havern (55), B Gallen for B O’Hagan (61)
Referee: D Mullan (Derry)