Tyrone 2-10 Armagh 1-10
The All-Ireland champions had to dig deep to get the better of Ulster champions Armagh at Clones today.
In the end, goals from Stephen O’Neill and Conor Gormley were enough to set up a provincial semi-final against Derry.
The popular notion that an Orchard side in transition would prove no match for the might of the Red Hands was blown apart by Peter McDonnell’s courageous battlers.
Even when Mickey Harte’s men moved eight points clear in the second half, Armagh staged a spirited revival to cut the gap to two and set up a riveting finish.
In the end, Tyrone’s experience, allied to the introduction of the ageless Broan Dooher for the last 20 minutes, steadied the ship and saw them safely to shore.
Brian Mallon and James Lavery rewarded Armagh’s early enterprise with points, and they held the lead throughout the opening quarter against a sluggish Tyrone.
The Red Hands only score of that period was a Stephen O’Neill free, and it was Peter McDonnell’s side, with wing forwards Mallon and Finian Moriarity providing an effective link between defence and attack, who looked the more positive of the sides.
However, as the game wore on, the Sam Maguire Cup holders began to settle into a smooth flow and a more familiar rhythm.
Justin McMahon was deployed on centre forward martin O’Rourke, whose defensive approach gave the Allstar full back opportunities to drive forward to great effect.
Sean Cavanagh, operating in the half forward line, banged over a superb point, before a Tommy McGuigan free brought the sides level on 22 minutes.
Joe McMahon stroked a ‘45’ between the posts for the lead, and on the half-hour, O’Neill, a pre-match doubt due to injury, struck for a superb goal.
He showed perfect control to gather a Davy Harte delivery that appeared to be drifting wide, before turning marker Andy Mallon, and planting a firmly struck shot past Paul Hearty and into the far corner of the net.
Cavanagh’s second score sent Tyrone in with a 1-5 to 0-3 interval lead, and it was Conor Gormley who arrived from nowhere to get on the end of Owen Mulligan’s long punt to blast in a second goal off the underside of the crossbar five minutes after the restart.
The game appeared to be slipping away from Armagh, now looking at an eight points deficit, but they were right back in it on 49 minutes when Ronan Clarke fielded Martin O’Rourke’s long delivery and shook himself free of Gormley before blasting past John Devine in the Tyrone goal.
Aaron Kernan and Brian Mallon knocked over points to trim the deficit to two, but the Sam Maguire Cup holders reeled off points through Dooher and O’Neill, with a superlative effort, to shake off the Orchard challenge, despite the loss of Gormley to a second booking.
Tyrone: J Devine, PJ Quinn, Justin McMahon, R McMenamin, D Harte, C Gormley (1-0), P Jordan, K Hughes, E McGinley, M Penrose, T McGuigan (0-2, 2f), Joe McMahon (0-1, ‘45’), S O’Neill (1-3, 2f), S Cavanagh (0-2), O Mulligan (0-1).
Subs: B Dooher (0-1) for McGuigan, C Cavanagh for Penrose, Sean O’Neill for Justin McMahon, N Gormley for Joe McMahon, C Holmes for Hughes
Armagh: P Hearty, A Mallon, B Donaghy, B Shannon, F Moriarity, C McKeever, A Kernan (0-3, 3f), K Toner, J Lavery (0-1), P Duffy, M O’Rourke, B Mallon (0-2), S McDonnell (0-3, 2f), R Clarke (1-0), K O’Rourke.
Subs: S Kernan for Duffy, T Kernan for K O’Rourke, S Forker (0-1) for M O’Rourke, A O’Rourke for Moriarity
Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan).