More like it from Tyrone and less of it from Down.
Boiled down, that’s how this replay panned out as the visitors, in front of a Páirc Esler crowd just over 14,000, proved they had learned their lessons from six days previous in Omagh.
The men who had punctured Tyrone’s lead in that second half — Kevin McKernan, Jerome Johnston, Conor Maginn and Benny Coulter when he came in — were almost completely neutralised.
Instead, it was men like Mattie Donnelly and Colm Cavanagh who imposed themselves on the game throughout. Tyrone, and they did need to remind us after their Healy Park foul-up, looked like Ulster contenders again.
“We were berated last week for supposedly not being very good,” said Mickey Harte. “At times we could have won the game last week as comfortably as we did tonight, but we didn’t put it away at the times that mattered.
“There was probably a bit of unfair criticism towards the team last week because there were mistakes there too tonight, but we kept going, we kept fighting to the end and we kept out the goals. That’s what got us across the line.
“We pressed them more than we did last week and that upset their rhythm. They play quite defensively and then break from the back. This time we decided we would put more heat on them on the ball and it meant that the ball going inside was of a lesser quality. I suppose the main thing was we kept out goals.”
Niall Morgan was level to Aidan Carr’s second minute penalty after Conor Maginn had been brought down inside the area after just 28 seconds. But the Tyrone goal was only seriously threatened once more in the remainder of the game. At the other end, a Ciarán McGinley ground strike after the ball broke kindly to him from a Seán Cavanagh kick forward saw Down trail 1-5 to 0-3 in the 23rd minute.
Down, though, reeled off four unanswered points before the break, to cut the margin to two at the interval only for Tyrone to net again via McGinley 24 seconds into the new half.
The sharp Tyrone wing-forward followed up with a point and then Morgan sent over his third dead ball point of the game to extend their lead to five.
James McCartan particularly rued the concession of the second goal: “They got a bit of a head-start but we scored the last four points of the first-half and we didn’t really want half-time to come.
“As fate would have it, they hit us with a sucker punch straight away and left us with a mountain to climb. We still kept plugging away.
“To be honest, you (press) guys can make up your own opinion, but I thought the scoreboard was a bit cruel to us in the end, it didn’t reflect the game.”
To suggest that would be overly sympathetic to Down. Four points in the second half was a measly return — kudos to the likes of Justin McMahon and second half replacement Conor Gormley. While but for the woodwork, Tyrone could have added another couple of second half goals.
McCartan also felt Tyrone’s coup de grace, Peter Harte’s 53rd minute penalty goal, was harsh — “in fairness no Tyrone lad looked for a penalty, there was no player squealing ‘penalty!’ which you’d have thought.”
However, it did appear Kevin McKernan had pushed Ronan McNabb in the back as he attempted to palm the ball to the net following a scorching Niall McKenna run.
Even though their side trailed by eight, Down supporters remained hopeful. Had Jerome Johnston’s half-shot not been a few inches to the left and hit the foot of the post, Tyrone’s resolve would have been questioned stronger.
After Mattie Donnelly boomed a point to put nine points between the teams and Conor Garvey and Niall McKenna exchanged scores, Down did eat away some of their deficit via a couple of Donal O’Hare scores.
But they discovered it wasn’t just time that was against them; the tenacity of Tyrone was too. They wouldn’t be fooled again.
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare (0-6, 4 frees); C Laverty (0-2); C Maginn, D Gordon, B Coulter, C Garvey (0-1 each).
Scorers for Tyrone: C McGinley (2-1); P Harte (1-1, 1-0 pen); N Morgan (0-3, 2 45s, 1f); D McCurry (0-2, frees); R O’Neill, Mattie Donnelly, N McKenna, C McAliskey (0-1 each).
Subs for Down: B Coulter for A Carr (44); R Johnston for N Madine (46); A Rogers for J Johnston (60); D Turley for D McCartan (64).
Subs for Tyrone: C Gormley for R McNamee, S O’Neill for E McKenna (both h-t); N McKenna for K Coney (51); M Penrose for D McCurry (64); C McAliskey for R O’Neill (67); D McBride for Mattie Donnelly (68).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
DOWN: B McVeigh; R Boyle, D McCartan, B McArdle; C Garvey, A Carr, D Rooney; D Gordon, K McKernan; C Maginn, M Poland, N Madine; C Laverty, J Johnston, D O’Hare. TYRONE: N Morgan; R McNabb, Justin McMahon, R McNamee; A McCrory, Mattie Donnelly, P Harte; C Cavanagh, C Clarke; S Cavanagh, C McGinley, E McKenna; D McCurry, K Coney, R O’Neill.
Peter Harte’s 53rd minute penalty put Tyrone eight points ahead. They weren’t going to lose such a handsome advantage again.
The multitude of scoring chances Tyrone created. James McCartan said the scoreline wasn’t fair to Down. It was actually too fair.
Tyrone hit the woodwork on three occasions, via Kyle Coney (post with a point effort), Sean Cavanagh (crossbar) and Harte (post with a goal attempt). That excluded 12 wides and a few balls dropped short into Brendan McVeigh’s hands.
Colm Cavanagh was excellent at midfield but Mattie Donnelly’s shift at centre-back was terrific.
Whatever McCartan had to throw at Tyrone, Mickey Harte caught. Dan Gordon’s switch to full-forward close to the finish indicated Down’s desperation.
Solid outing by Cormac Reilly. Never lost his authority even when things were heated in the first half and was reluctant to dish out cards.
Tyrone entertain Ulster champions Monaghan in Omagh on June 15. Down are out in their first round qualifier on June 28.
- Brendan O’Brien