Ref justice for Harte’s Red Hand

TYRONE manager Mickey Harte was left fuming yesterday by the timing of referee Martin Higgins’ full-time whistle after a nip-and-tuck relegation dogfight that finally swung Monaghan’s way.

The visitors were two points down deep into stoppage time when the Fermanagh official awarded them a free within kicking distance of the home posts and Dermot Carlin duly slotted over a point.

Higgins called for the ball as soon as the white flag was raised and was duly approached by a handful of aggrieved Tyrone players, as well as by Harte who made his way onto the pitch to make his point.

“I have no complaints in general with the referee,” said Harte later. “I was more than happy with it, but he told Dermot Carlin before our last free that there was 30 seconds left in the game, that the game would conclude after the next kick-out. So, Dermot rightfully kicked the ball over the bar. Then the whistle went. If he hadn’t said that, we could have gone for a goal and, okay, we might not have got it, but at least we could have tried.”

Higgins was, in fact, a busy man all day, having produced 13 yellow cards as well as two reds for Monaghan’s Stephen Gollogly and Tommy Freeman, both of which came for second offences in time added on.

It was hardly the type of game to merit such judicious refereeing but it was, as predicted, a tough contest between two sides desperate to get off the mark after both had lost their opening two fixtures.

Harte was still operating without Sean Cavanagh, Brian Dooher and Stephen O’Neill but he was able to recall other leading lights for this one – Conor Gormley, Justin McMahon, Martin Penrose and Owen Mulligan included.

It was no surprise then when Tyrone began to open up a useful lead in the first half and on the back of some pristine football that was accommodated by a sublime playing surface and perfect conditions.

Mulligan was showing well and, after a difficult opening few minutes, the midfield of Aidan Cassidy and Kevin Hughes began to achieve parity around the centre. By the 25th minute they were eight points to four to the good.

Monaghan were drifting but the switch of full-back Darren Hughes to midfield helped them rediscover momentum, as did two unbelievably soft scores that turned the game.

The first was a routine free for Finlay after a debatable foul on Freeman but the second was the real killer for Tyrone as Freeman robbed Gormley from the resultant short kick out and raced through unimpeded to find the net.

Another free from Finlay in first-half injury time and Monaghan were, somehow, in front and Harte claimed afterwards that the score at the interval was an “injustice” on the balance of play.

He was right.

Unfortunately for Tyrone, they were unable to replicate any of their fluid football after the break and, with Monaghan equally subdued in the creative stakes, it made for an uninspired second half.

The sides drew level three times throughout that period but it took 10 frees and 32 minutes for either of them to register a score from play. Tyrone could, and should, have managed that sooner.

Both Ryan McMenamin and Tommy McGuigan spurned excellent opportunities to claim crucial points and Colm Cavanagh saw one shot on goal deflected wide by his own player midway through the half.

It was that kind of day for them.

Not Monaghan’s greatest ever win then but a win nonetheless and Seamus McEneaney was understandably thrilled to see his side claim their first victory over their near neighbours in any competition since 2003.

“I don’t think it would have made any difference who we would have played here in Inniskeen,” he said, “we were up for the fight. We played some decent football. It was a very important win. It is two points in the National League.

“We will need six points to stay in Division One and this team is best served by playing in Division One. We are hopeful that we will grind out four more points somewhere along the road.”

Scorers for Monaghan: P Finlay 0-7 (6f), T Freeman 1-1, C McManus 0-4f, D Clerkin 0-1, R Woods 0-1.

Scorers for Tyrone: M Penrose 0-5f, T McGuigan 0-4 (3f), R Mulgrew 0-2, O Mulligan 0-2, D Carlin 0-1, E McCusker 0-1 K Hughes 0-1.

Subs for Monaghan: C Greenan for Caulfield 22, D Morgan for Greenan 45, R Woods for Hughes 55, D Malone for McElroy 68.

Subs for Tyrone: E McGinley for Hughes 35, C McCullagh for B McGuigan 58, E McCusker for Mulgrew 58.

Referee: M Higgins (Fermanagh).

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