By Francis Mooney
Tyrone 0-10 Cavan 0-8
Tyrone came out on top in a dour Ulster derby at Healy Park, picking up an important opening day win as they set out on the road back to Division One of the NFL.
The fact that neither goalkeeper had a save to make says much about the nature of a defensive, sterile contest that was made even less appealing to the eye by difficult underfoot conditions.
Both teams deployed a defensive formation which saw them channel 14 men behind the ball at times, and scoring opportunities were at a premium as a result.
But the Red Hands did find a way to nail the late scores which saw them take both points from the first of four Ulster derby league ties.
It was clear from the outset that both sides were more determined to avoid defeat than to throw caution to the wind and go all-out for a positive result.
Both often had as many as 15 men behind the ball, with front men Niall McDermott of Cavan and Tyrone’s Connor McAliskey finding themselves badly isolated.
This was a frustrating afternoon for play-makers, who found it difficult to pick holes and find openings in the opposition cover.
Mark Bradley did manage to find the target in the opening minute, but his well taken point was to be the only score from play in the opening half-hour.
Cavan went level with a McDermott free, and eased ahead with a Martin Reilly ’45 on eight minutes.
McAliskey levelling from a similar kick, and Lee Brennan converted a couple of frees to give the Red Hands a slight advantage early in the second quarter.
It was debutant Brennan who hit an eye-catching point from play to open out a 0-5 to 0-3 lead.
But the Breffni men finished the half strongly, with Martin Reilly and skipper Gearoid McKiernan both landing superb scores from wide on the left, and they went in level at 0-5 each.
Tyrone finally found a way to open up the Cavan defence with piercing runs from deep by centre back Rory Brennan, and he was involved in their first two scores of the second half.
First he sent Mattie Donnelly in for a thunderous point, then pushed through to land one himself, before a Darren McCurry free opened out a two points lead.
Cian Mackey’s energy saw him surge from deep to get on the end of a move to notch a score, and heading into the final 15 minutes, just a point separated the sides.
But it was the Red Hands who had the legs to endure on a heavy, sodden surface, and an injection of experience off the bench, including Peter Harte, helped them through.
Full back Justin McMahon curled over a point, and McAliskey made it a three points gap.
The Red Hands sought to see out the game by holding possession, and almost paid the price for some sloppy distribution.
Rory Brennan intervened with a vital interception as Cavan pushed for a goal, but they fell just short.
Tyrone: M O’Neill, A McCrory, J McMahon (0-1), C McCarron, N Sludden, R Brennan (0-1), T McCann, C Cavanagh, M Donnelly (0-1), C McShane, M Bradley (0-1), C Meyler, L Brennan (0-3, 2f), C McAliskey (0-2, 1 ’45), R O’Neill.
Subs: D McCurry (0-1, f) for L Brennan (h-t), K McGeary for O’Neill (h-t), P Harte for McShane (44), C McCann for McCrory (44), P McNulty for Meyler (60), B Tierney for Bradley (63)
Cavan: R Galligan, P Faulkner, K Clarke (0-1), K Brady, C Brady, C Moynagh, F Flanagan, D Givney, G McKiernan (0-2, 1f), M Reilly (0-2, 1 ’45), N McDermott (0-1, f), D McVeety, C Mackey (0-1), E Keating (0-1), J Brady.
Subs: P O’Connor for McDermott (34), E Henry for J Brady (47), M Argue for Givney (60), S Johnston for Keating (60), B Sankey for K Brady (71)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).