Red Hand claw their way back

Tyrone 1-17

Stars of other days were paraded beforehand to generous applause, but the greatest tribute of all was strictly free of choreography.

Down and Tyrone offered up an epic encounter. Each twist and turn included an element of controversy, and when the wheel finally stopped spinning both teams were still alive. But only just.

Where to start with a clash of such magnitude? At the end, perhaps.

Tyrone had crawled on their hands and knees out of jail, only for their composure to desert them in cruel fashion.

In the dying moments, Kevin Hughes and Ryan McMenamin fired shots narrowly wide.

Referee Aidan Mangan, from Kerry, won few admirers in the Down camp.

He sent off Gregory McCartan just before half-time for throwing the ball in the direction of Brian McGuigan's face.

However, those Down fans who jeered Mangan as he left the field could hardly be called models of unbiased vision.

Two of Down's goals resulted from dubious decisions against the League champions.

When Tyrone went nine points down 3-8 to 0-8 after a stunning Down surge either side of half-time, sage heads nodded knowingly. Another Tyrone fold-up-the-tent job.

But Tyrone hauled themselves back up the mountain, rattling off 1-6 without reply. Level at 1-14 to 3-8, they were entitled to dream that victory would now follow.

Then big Dan Gordon fisted another Down goal and Harte's brigade were once more in freefall.

Off they went again. Eoin Mulligan and Conor Gormley kicked two good points, and Peter Canavan was fouled 50 yards from goal.

Canavan knows no self-doubt in the slow-mo final moments of championship matches, and he floated over the equaliser. Then came the misses by Mulligan and McMenamin and Mangan's long whistle.

"We came back up the mountain twice. I thought we did very well to recover from going nine points down, but then bang, they got another goal, and we had to do it all over again. I am very proud of the lads for coming back again," said Mickey Harte.

The manager endured the sort of day that ages managers. Beforehand his worst fears were confirmed when Colin Holmes and Gerard Cavlan were ruled out through injury.

Holmes' absence haunted Tyrone. They were coasting along for the opening 34 minutes, and had built up an 0-8 to 0-5 lead. The midfield dominance of Cormac McAnallen and Stephen Cavanagh was pronounced and only for the brilliance of Down 'keeper Mickey McVeigh, Tyrone would have scored two goals.

The 34th minute marks the last moment this game conformed to any sort of stereotype. A Liam Doyle point followed by an outstanding Benny Coulter goal to gave Down a one-point lead and transformed the Clones landscape.

Coulter's goal was a beauty, but there was a dark underbelly.

Mulligan was penalised for overcarrying wrongly, I believe, and from the subsequent free Michael Walsh released Coulter with a deft handpass.

Coulter used his strength to shake off Conor Gormley and went roaring in on goal with one thing on his mind.

Then came McCartan's sending-off, and another Doyle point.

The fun was just beginning. Three minutes into the new half, Coutler got on the end of another Walsh pass and made ground before popping to Doyle, who scored another goal.

And three minutes later, Down were at it again when John Lavery's high ball was fisted home by Gordon.

Coulter waltzed through for a point to put Down 3-8 to 0-8 ahead on the 45 minute mark.

From this unlikely starting-point, Tyrone conjured up arguably the best football the county has played in 20 years.

Canavan, as ever, led the way with a goal from a 13th minute penalty, after being fouled himself. McGuigan, Philip Jordan, Mulligan, and Canavan with three frees, all supplied the scores to draw them level in the 62nd minute.

Then came Gordon's second goal, doubling on Doyle's floated free, and Tyrone were forced to get down and dirty again before this roller-coaster of a match finally came to an end and disgorged its traumatised riders.

Scorers: Down L Doyle 1-4 (3f), D Gordon 2-1, B Coulter 1-1, G McCartan 0-1 (f), B Burns 0-1. Tyrone P Canavan 1-6 (1-0 penalty, 5f), E Mulligan 0-3, S Cavanagh 0-2, C Gormley 0-2, K Hughes 0-1, B Dooher 0-1, B McGuigan 0-1, P Jordan 0-1.

DOWN: M McVeigh; J Clarke, M Cole, B Burns; J Lavery, A O'Prey, A Molloy; S Ward, G McCartan; L Doyle, R Sexton, B Coulter; M Walsh, D Gordon, R Murtagh. Subs: J McCartan for R Murtagh, 49; S King for R Sexton, 55; 63 M Linden for S Ward; 64 P McCartan for M Walsh.

TYRONE: J Devine; R McMenamin, C Lawn, D Carlin; C Gormley, D McCrossan, P Jordan; C McAnallen, S Cavanagh; B Dooher, B McGuigan, K Hughes; E McGinley, P Canavan, E Mulligan.

Subs: C Gourley for D McCrossan, 43; B Robinson for C Lawn, 66.

Referee: A Mangan, Kerry.

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