The Dr McKenna Cup exploded into action at the Athletic Grounds where fierce rivals Armagh and Tyrone hammered out a ding-dong battle that produced 19 cards – four of them red.
Armagh finished with 12 men and paid the price for their indiscipline as a three points lead was overhauled by the holders, who shot the game’s final five scores.
And all that after crowd chaos prior to the throw-in, which was delayed by half an hour to allow droves of supporters access to the ground, which eventually hosted 8,463 spectators.
They witnessed a feisty first-half, which was just eight minutes old when Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh and Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever received straight red cards following a melee.
Tyrone centre back Ryan McKenna also departed the action after a quarter of an hour on a black card, and referee Noel Mooney, a stand-in for Joe McQuillan, issued seven yellows to each side before the day was done.
The card count was misleading, according to Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.
“I think there was a lot of cards flashed and maybe a different referee mightn’t have as many,” he said.
“If you read this in the cold light of day, you’d think this was an awfully difficult game and very bad tempered, and it really wasn’t.”
And Kieran McGeeney was furious at the delayed start to his first game in charge of Armagh, having had words with Ulster Council officials over the 30-minute delay.
“I think it’s extremely stupid. It’s beyond belief that we would hold up a game because people turn up late. They said it was a Health and Safety issue. I can’t see it. Just because they haven’t it organised or haven’t got enough people together. I don’t know what it was for.”
Harte did not disguise his pleasure at the opportunity to launch the season with a fiercely competitive game against old rivals.
“There wasn’t much time to hang around. People say ease yourself into the new season, I don’t think there was much easing there, it was competitive from the off. At times it looked as if Armagh were going to win, they seemed to be in control. Our finishing wasn’t serving us well, some of our shot selection and passing wasn’t great, even keeping possession.
“But that’s all part and parcel of the new seasons and seeing where you’re at, but the main thing is they hung in there and kept fighting.
Sean Cavanagh, playing at full-forward, hit all but one of Tyrone’s first half scores, while Eugene McVerry, Ethan Rafferty and Michael McKenna eased Kieran McGeeney’s side into a 0-6 to 0-5 interval lead. Playing with the wind in the second-half, they managed to improve their advantage by just a single point in the third quarter, after losing Finian Moriarty to a second yellow card.
And they suffered a blow when Cavanagh and debutant Padraig McNulty combined to set up a 53rd minute goal for corner back Aidan McCrory.
Armagh responded with a goal, Niall McConville’s superb pass sendiung McVerry in for a crisp finish four minutes later, and they led by three going into the final ten minutes.
But a second booking for full-back Aaron Findon left the Orchard men hopelessly short-handed and Darren McCurry slotted over a couple of points, before substitute Cathal McShane hit the lead score right at the death.
Armagh scorers: E McVerry 1-3 (0-3f), M McKennna 0-3, E Rafferty (f), S Forker, G McParland, T Kernan 0-1 each.
Tyrone scorers: A McCrory 1-0, S Cavanagh (4f), D McCurry (3f) 0-5 each, P Hughes, C McShane 0-1 each
ARMAGH: N Geoghegan, M McConville, A Findon, M Murray, M Shields, F Moriarty, C McKeever, E Rafferty, S Campbell, S Forker, M McKenna, E McVerry, G McParland, S Sheridan, N McConville.
Subs: J Clarke for Rafferty (h-t) T Kernan for McParland (h-t), D McKenna for Sheridan (44), M McNeice for Geoghegan (47), F O’Neill for McConville (71)
TYRONE: N Morgan, A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron, T McCann, R McKenna, P Harte, C Cavanagh, P McNulty, E McKenna, K Coney, P Hughes, D McCurry, S Cavanagh, S McGuigan.
Subs: D Quinn for R McKenna (BC, 16), C McShane for E McKenna (46), N McKenna for McGuigan (50), M Donnelly for Coney (50), R Brennan for Harte (64)
Referee: N Mooney (Cavan).