Tyrone 0-16 Armagh 0-14
It may have been just the McKenna Cup, but fierce rivals Tyrone and Armagh approached this final as if it was a championship decider.
Passion and tempers combined to produce several flare-ups which led referee Joe McQuillan to flash 11 yellow and three red cards over the course of a rancorous contest.
In the end, the deadly left boot of Darren McCurry led the Red Hands to a seventh title in eight seasons, leaving Armagh to look back at 1994 for their last success in this competition.
The game was played without the controversial hand-pass rule which had just hours earlier been ditched by Central Council, and Sunday’s FBD Connacht League final between Galway and Roscommon at Tuam will also be played without the ill-fated regulation.
“The decision in relation to the experimental rules, agreed with the Connacht Council, Croke Park and the four competing counties in the Dr McKenna Cup final and Sunday’s FBD Connacht final, was that as the Central Council had agreed to decommission, for want of a better word, the hand-pass rule, that it wouldn’t apply in the pre-season finals in Ulster and Connacht,” said Ulster Council secretary Brian McAvoy.
“But it did take all four competing counties to be in agreement, and all felt that as Central Council had agreed to remove that experimental rule, we wouldn’t use it tonight or tomorrow.”
Ronan O’Neill gave the Red Hands the lead early on, but it was Armagh who quickly built up momentum and put their fierce rivals under sustained pressure.
Niall Grimley gave Armagh the lead with a ’45, adding to Rory Grugan’s converted free, and it was looking good for Kieran McGeeney’s side at this stage as they confidently ran at a nervous opposition defence.
Stefan Campbell thumped over a superb score from close to the sideline, but that 11th minute effort was the only point either side managed from open play in the opening 20 minute.
Armagh were playing all the creative football, but the final pass was frequently their undoing as Tyrone defenders Ronan McNamee and Liam Rafferty stepped in to intercept.
Niall Sludden was the catalyst for Tyrone’s gear change, running strongly at the Armagh defence to finish with a fine sore, and after McCurry’s third free had them level, the scores started to flow for last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists.
They hit five on the spin, with Cathal McShane, and a second from Sludden, also punishing the Orchard, before Grimley halted the slide with his fourth score, all four from placed balls.
Tyrone led by 0-9 to 0-6 at the interval, and another magnificent point from Campbell, back in the side after a year-long break, had the home support in good cheer.
Grimley also added to his tally, while Jamie Clarke chipped in with a neat score, along with Grugan, who brought the sides level on 56 minutes.
But McCurry was in deadly form from placed balls, curling over another couple with his trusty left, as Tyrone restored the advantage to two.
Armagh defender James Morgan was sent off on a second booking, but almost immediately, they were awarded a penalty, which produced just a point, Grugan’s kicking clipping the top of the crossbar.
Tempers flared for a third time, and straight red cards were brandished to Armagh’s Aaron McKay and Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee, as the game finished on a tempestuous note, the Red Hands pushing for home with McCurry’s ninth of the evening.
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1, f); C McLaughlin, R McNamee (0-1), L Rafferty; T McCann, A McCrory, M Cassidy; C Grugan, D McClure (0-1); N Sludden (0-2), R O’Neill, C McCann; D McCurry (0-9, 8f), P Harte, C McShane (0-2, 0-1mark).
Subs: C Meyler for C McCann (42), M Donnelly for Cassidy (42), D Canavan for O’Neill (49), K McGeary for Rafferty (50), K Coney for Grugan (60)
Armagh: B Hughes; C Mackin, A McKay, J Morgan; R McCaughley, B Donaghy, G McCabe; S Sheridan, N Grimley (0-5, 4f, 1 ’45); J Hall, R Grugan (0-5, 4f, 1 pen), R McShane; S Campbell (0-2), R O’Neill (0-1), J Clarke (0-1).
Subs: J McElroy for Donaghy (h-t), J Og Burns for McShane (h-t), C Vernon for McCabe (49), J Duffy for Clarke (59), R McQuillan for Hall (62)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)