There were glimpses of that old magic at Healy Park as they brushed aside the challenge of Armagh in a feisty Ulster derby. The old guard remain a formidable prospect for any opponent, and most pertinently the next one – Roscommon – but it was relative newcomers Peter Harte and Mark Donnelly who ran the show up front, tormenting a shaky Orchard defence all evening.
Sean O’Neill seized his opportunity on his first championship start in a defence that had vintage performances from Joe McMahon and Conor Gormley, who totally eclipsed the much-vaunted Jamie Clarke.
Joe McMahon and Tommy McGuigan scored the goals that set up Tyrone’s meeting with the beaten Connacht finalists in round four, and brought the Orchard season to a shuddering halt.
And manager Mickey Harte was delighted with the industry and intent displayed by his players.
“I always like a team that’s creating chances, because when you create enough chances you’re going to get some of them,” said Harte. “I’d rather have that than not be creating chances. If you’re not creating, as someone said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We were certainly taking the shots tonight.”
However, golden goal chances were missed, particularly in the first half, when Brian McGuigan smashed a shot against a post and Sean O’Neill blazed badly wide.
Harte continued: “It was unfortunate, maybe the wrong men in the right place in the last ditch effort but they persevered. The blitz when we came from three down to four up was a magnificent turnaround. Then again in the second half we had to battle again because they just wouldn’t go away – that’s typical of Armagh, they don’t lie down. Again we were creating lots of good chances and not getting those finishing touches that we might have done.
“But it’s good the players persisted, they were playing with a lot of quality all night, and it’s nice to see that in a team.”
Harte was reluctant to declare total satisfaction with his team’s current form, but is certain that they can push on and make a bigger impact as the championship progresses.
“Well, it’s early days yet, but it’s good to be within touching distance of the last eight. We’re a week behind everybody else and we have to deal with Roscommon now if we want to get into the last eight.
“That’s always been our ambition every year: first of all get to the last eight and proceed from there if you can. I don’t mind whichever method we use to get there.”
Armagh looked the livelier of the sides in the opening stages, easing ahead through Micheal O’Rourke, Steven McDonnell and Malachy Mackin. Still, Tyrone trailed by just a point midway through the first half after Kyle Coney had added to scores from Harte and Donnelly.
And the Red Hands soon discovered a hesitant Orchard defence could be opened up with alarming ease.
First Brian McGuigan broke clear, but fired his shot against an upright, then wing-back Sean O’Neill raced through gaping holes, but blazed badly wide. Armagh had their chances too, the best of which fell to Jamie Clarke, who got a hand to Mackin’s delivery, but was denied by a reflex Pascal McConnell save.
McDonnell’s third point made it 0-6 to 0-3 in the 29th minute, but it all went wrong for Armagh in the final five minutes of the half. Full-back Joe McMahon popped up to palm home a stoppage time goal after a Hearty blunder had gifted possession to Harte, and the Red Hands suddenly led 1-7 to 0-6 at the break.
Armagh started the second half with a flourish — McDonnell, Billy Joe Padden and Aaron Kernan narrowing the gap to a point — but the hosts stepped on the gas again, and a superb move led to Tommy McGuigan’s 47th minute goal.
Armagh lacked the quality and penetration to dig themselves out of this one, and with Conor Gormley triumphant in his personal battle with Clarke, McMahon imperious at full-back, and Harte picking holes in the opposition defence, this was Tyrone’s night. McDonnell did pull back a handful of scores, mostly from frees, but sent a penalty over the bar, and any lingering chance they had of changing the course of the game was gone.
Scorers for Tyrone: T McGuigan 1-1, Joe McMahon 1-0, P Harte 0-4 (3f), Donnelly 0-3, S O’Neill, S Cavanagh (f), K Coney, B McGuigan, M Swift 0-1 each.
Scorers for Armagh: S McDonnell 0-8 (5f, 1 pen), M O’Rourke 0-2, M Mackin, BJ Padden, A Kernan (f) 0-1 each.
Subs for Tyrone: Justin McMahon for McMenamin (33), B Dooher for T McGuigan (56), M Penrose for Coney (56), E McGinley for C Cavanagh (63), D Harte for O’Neill (64)
Subs for Armagh: T Kernan for Lavery (44), D McKenna for Duffy (50), B Mallon for Padden (56), G McParland for O’Rourke (58), J Hanratty for Vernon (63).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).