Rainbow’s end as Tyrone add colours to the list

Tyrone 0-12 Armagh 0-9

Certainly, they deserved to make the historic breakthrough, 27 years after contesting the first of their three finals and nobody was more worthy of leading them to victory than the mighty Peter Canavan.

But, against a background of two terrible goal misses in the second half, it required a superb block from wing-back Conor Gormley to prevent an Armagh goal in the 68th minute which, in all probability, would have enabled them to hold on to their title.

Without question, Gormley's brave tackle on Steven McDonnell all the more admirable because it was carried out legally was the single most significant event in what proved to be a dour, unremitting physical battle between two fiercely determined teams.

However, what allowed Micky Harte's team to be in the position where they were defending a lead they held from the 2nd minute, was superbly disciplined and confident play throughout.

It was highlighted by the vital contribution of five points from frees by Canavan before he was forced off injured at half-time and a marvellous display from Kevin Hughes at midfield.

Vital, too, was the contribution of his replacement, Stephen O'Neill and, even if he didn't live up to his reputation, Owen Mulligan had the satisfaction of kicking over two major scores from frees which were hugely important psychologically in the absence of the captain.

Fittingly, Canavan was to make a reappearance near the end to help inspire his team to a fairytale triumph. This in turn, marked the achievement of a remarkable treble for popular manager Harte and his assistant Fr. Gerard McAleer, following wins at minor and under-21 level with most of the same players.

Notably, with Armagh engaging in mind games even before the start when they briefly ran down to Tyrone's end of the field after coming on to the field it was the challengers who looked the more composed from the start. They managed to exert an early pressure largely as a result of the possession they won out around midfield and force Armagh into conceding frees which were well within Canavan's compass to take advantage of.

By the 16th minute they were leading 0-5 to 0-1, with Canavan putting over three of those scores and one of the others coming from young centre-forward Frank McGuigan who had made a good start against Kieran McGeeney.

While the Armagh strategy of withdrawing Tony McEntee (to play more around midfield than half-back this time) did work out to their advantage, it did have the effect of limiting them in attack to the extent that they were almost totally dependant on Steven McDonnell.

Tyrone's effective covering behind the ball meant that the threat from the like of Oisin McConville and Diarmaid Marsden (later to be unluckily red-carded after coming back on the field following a head wound) was greatly minimised.

Likewise, Tyrone's 'running' style of play meant that there was very little good ball played into Canavan and Owen Mulligan at the heart of their attack. While both of them did have time on the ball on occasions, it was more in a supporting role because Armagh's strong defensive play denied them the space that they needed.

Interestingly, however, Armagh had half-chances of goals in the 8th minute when Cormac McAnallen did well to smother a shot from Marsden and again in the 18th when wing-back Aidan O'Rourke was at the end of a good move before a bad pass gave the ball away. A few minutes later Tyrone could have got a penalty when Paul McGrane seemed to push McGuigan at the edge of the small square.

As the game developed, the more influential Kevin Hughes became at midfield, while Sean Kavanagh did some valuable work in a defensive capacity. It allowed Tyrone to maintain control of the play, helped by some strong play from Enda McGinley at right corner-forward and two more frees, kicked confidently by Canavan.

With McGinley at his best, he helped set up a good move in the 28th minute which might have given Mulligan a shot at goal only that his attempted pass was intercepted. And, McGinley might indeed have had the ball in the net himself in injury time only that 'keeper Paul Hearty diverted his powerful shot over the bar. At the break, Tyrone had a four points lead, 0-8 to 0-4.

Canavan didn't resume for the second half after going over on his ankle near the end of the half, but, just like in the Kerry game, it didn't upset Tyrone in the least. In fact, Gerard Cavlan another player who didn't leave an imprint on the play could have inspired them with a goal after only five minutes but kicked wide from close range.

Substitute Paddy McKeever was to kick over two excellent frees for Armagh before a Marsden point in the 52nd minute reduced the margin to two points. But, crucially for Tyrone, Mulligan kicked over a second marvellous free from far out in the right wing to restore a three points lead and Tyrone were to maintain that advantage until the closing minutes.

Marsden had been red-carded in the 57th minute (after a simple incident when corner-back Ciaran Gourley ran into him and the referee consulted with an umpire), but it didn't limit the champions unduly.

The fact is that with an improvement at midfield, mainly through McGrane, and some very determined play helped by some unforced Tyrone errors, they had enough chances to have drawn level.

More notably, Tyrone lost a second goal chance when Mulligan hit a low shot wide off the post in the 64th minute when it seemed a point would have been a poor return.

Ultimately, however, some marvellous defensive play by Tyrone over the last ten minutes culminating in Gormley's match-winning block on McDonnell ensured that their long wait had come to an end.

*Based on his performance over the 70 minutes, I felt that Brian White handled a difficult game quite well. Apart from the decision not to award Tyrone a first-half penalty and to send off Diarmaid Marsden, he didn't make that many other mistakes.

Scorers for Tyrone: P. Canavan 0-5 frees; S. O'Neill 0-2; O. Mulligan 0-2 frees; E. McGinley, G. Cavlan and B. McGuigan 0-1 each.

Armagh: O. McConville 0-3 frees; S. McDonnell 0-2; P. McKeever 0-2 frees; J. McEntee and D. Marsden 0-1 each.

TYRONE: J. Devine; C. Gourley, C. McAnallen, R. McMenamin; C. Gormley, G. Devlin, P. Jordan; K. Hughes, S. Cavanagh; B. Dooher, B. McGuigan, G. Cavlan; E. McGinley, P. Canavan (capt.), E. Mulligan.

Subs: S. O'Neill for McGuigan (34th minute); McGuigan for Canavan (second half); C. Holmes for Gourley (62nd); Canavan for Cavlan (64th); C. Lawn for Gormley (71st).

ARMAGH: P. Hearty; F. Bellew, E. McNulty, A. Mallon; A. O'Rourke, K. McGeeney, A. McCann; P. Loughran, P. McGrane; R. Clarke, J. McEntee, O. McConville; S. McDonnell, D. Marsden, T. McEntee.

Subs: P. McKeever for Marsden (25th); K. Hughes for Mallon (42nd); Marsden for Clarke (50th); B. O'Hagan for J. McEntee (60th).

Referee: B. White (Wexford).

*Attendance: 79,391.

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