Outplayed all day and down by five points in injury-time, the Ulster side somehow found the will and way to produce the two goals needed to clinch the win 10 years to the day their former captain was taken so suddenly.
“I have no doubt he was [looking down],” said a smiling Harte. “How else could you win a game like that? It had to be some divine intervention but that’s it, we did think about Cormac in our mass today and we did talk about him in our changing-room. He’s very much in our minds and all we wanted to do was give a creditable performance in his memory. He would be very proud about the way that finished though there would have been things he would have been disgusted with.
“Anyway, he must have kept with us to give us the final push.”
And what a push. Kildare were well worth their five-point lead as the clock went into the red. Tyrone trailed by seven after 10 minutes and pulled it back to one at the break and again midway through the second-half but not once all day had they led.
The home side looked home and hosed. Not even when Darren McCurry scooted through the Kildare rearguard and set up Ronan O’Neill for their second goal in the 71st minute did anyone believe lightning would strike twice. It did. It started with Mattie Donnelly zipping through the centre of defence to a chorus of ‘steps’ from the stand and finished with Mark Donnelly tapping in unmarked via a deflection and a pass from Kyle Coney.
All that was left was the obligatory kick-out and the final whistle.
“That’s Gaelic football for you,” said Harte. “We were played off the park all day. For the first 20 minutes we weren’t in the game. It was all Kildare, they were so efficient, and to even trail by a point at half-time was some sort of a miracle as well.”
Kildare were stunning in that opening spell. They had seven scores to Tyrone’s blank card by the 10th minute. The visitors were being crucified in midfield and their defensive indiscipline was being punished with a spate of pointed frees.
Yet the seeds of Kildare’s downfall were apparent with Tyrone’s second score of the afternoon when the superb Ronan O’Neill careered unchallenged to the centre of their defence and only Shane Connolly’s fingertips and the bar prevented a goal.
That avenue would prove profitable all day. Mattie Donnelly was repositioned from the full-forward line and into a midfield berth as the half wound on and Tyrone slowly found their feet with the defences at both ends doing their best to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Tyrone’s first goal, 29 minutes in, stoked the fires for the contest with Hugh McGrillen letting a simple high ball drop and punishment being meted out thanks to McCurry’s quick layoff and Emmett McKenna’s sublime low finish.
Again, the defence had parted obligingly but Kildare responded well to the belated Tyrone challenge with the second-half being ushered in by a Tomas O’Connor goal that was fisted to the net after Eoghan O’Flaherty’s spadework. And on it went.
Tyrone were always chasing the game. Every time they almost reeled Kildare in they were teased by a couple more points from the hosts and so, like Sisyphus, they had to push the boulder uphill again.
That they always did was a credit to their character on a day when their A-game wasn’t there and it made for an enthralling spectacle with four goals, 37 points and plenty more incidents of note dotted through the narratives besides. There may have been just the one black card – for Peter Harte after 27 minutes – but it was put to the Tyrone manager that the new deterrent was having an impact wildly beyond the hopes and dreams of even their most bullish of proponents.
“I wouldn’t contribute it all to the new rules,” said Harte. “Football evolves in certain directions at certain times. Trends happen and the trend was moving towards that anyway. Don’t teams follow suit of others who have been successful and playing a certain style of football.
“Hasn’t that happened the last decade and more?”
Whatever the reasons, more of the same please.
Scorers for Kildare: E O’Flaherty (0-6, 4fs), D Mulhall (0-5, 2fs, 1 45), P Brophy (0-3), T O’Connor (1-0), C McNally, S Hurley (0-2 each), T Moolick, M O’Grady, P Cribbin (0-1 each).
Scorers for Tyrone: R O’Neill (1-5, 0-3 frees), E McKenna (1-2), Mark Donnelly (1-1), Mattie Donnelly (0-3), C McAliskey (0-2), N Morgan (f); D McCurry (f), S Cavanagh (0-1 each).
KILDARE: S Connolly; M O’Grady, M Foley, H McGrillen; K Murnaghan, F Conway, P Cribbin; T Moolick, G White; C McNally, E O’Flaherty, S Hurley; P Brophy, T O’Connor, D Mulhall.
Subs for Kildare: D Hyland for Conway (47), P Fogarty for O’Connor (56), P O’Neill for McNally (57), J Gately for White (66), F Dowling for Mulhall (67).
TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory, C Clarke, B Tierney; R McKenna, P Harte, C McGinley; C Grugan, C Cavanagh; E McKenna, R O’Neill, S Cavanagh; D McCurry, Mattie Donnelly, C McAliskey.
Subs for Tyrone: R McNamee for Harte (bc, 28), Mark Donnelly for Grugan (ht), R McNabb for R McKenna (48), N McKenna for McGinley (51), K Coney for E McKenna (59).
Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry).
The second-to-last kick when Mark Donnelly tapped into the hosts’ net from a yard. Up to that every seemingly meaningful fightback from Tyrone had been nullified.
Lost in the wash between the two late goals was the entry onto the pitch of Daryl Flynn for his first appearance in a Kildare shirt since his recent return from Port Adelaide. Watch this space.
That ending. Two goals in injury-time to cap a game that had already provided 39 scores. And on the 10th anniversary of the passing of Cormac McAnallen. Quite the script.
Wing-back Paul Cribbin and wing-forward Sean Hurley were exceptional for Kildare but Ronan O’Neill gets the nod for plugging away all day and providing the first injury-time goal that made the impossible possible.
Only one. Mickey Harte questioned the decision to send Peter Harte to the line — he suggested yellow was the more appropriate colour — for dragging Tomas O’Connor to the floor but it seemed a fair call.
Harte’s decision to withdraw Mattie Donnelly to midfield and then centre-back helped Tyrone steady the ship but they played second fiddle to Kildare’s attacks at pace until that crazy finish.
Padraig O’Sullivan didn’t hesitate in sending Peter Harte to the line, which was the one big call, and the rest of his day was passed sensibly enough whatever the usual quibbles over close calls.
Kildare tip up the road to face the Dubs at Croke Park next weekend while Tyrone are heading for Kerry.