Tyrone survive late Antrim run to secure semi-finals place

Tyrone 2-14 Antrim 1-13

Tyrone 2-14 Antrim 1-13

Tyrone survived Antrim’s late siege to go through to the Ulster SFC semi-finals and a meeting with either Down or Monaghan.

For 45 minutes of this Casement Park tie, played out in front of a crowd of 18,159, the Red Hands were back to their brilliant best, defending in number and breaking forward with blinding pace to execute brilliant scores.

But in the searing heat in west Belfast, they appeared to tire, and it was a more youthful Antrim side that bossed the final 20 minutes.

Liam Bradley’s side cut a nine points deficit back to three, but Tyrone’s experience helped them survive and make it safely through to the last four.

First half goals from Kevin Hughes and Owen Mulligan laid the foundation, and with Justin McMahon in imperious form at full back, Mickey Harte’s men looked the part, but once Kevin Niblock pulled back a goal15 minutes from the end, they began to look edgy.

Hughes exchanged passes with Owen Mulligan to slot home Tyrone’s opening goal on eight minutes, after Stephen O’Neill and Thomas McCann had swapped early points.

That was the signal for the Red Hands to establish control, with a disciplined defensive system complementing a propensity to attack on the break with lightning pace.

But the 14th minute, they were ahead by1-3 to 0-1, with O’Neill hitting his second frofm a 50 metre free and the Cavanagh brothers, Sean and Colm, all hitting the target.

Paddy Cunningham narrowed the gap, but the Saffrons were repeatedly running into walls of Tyrone defenders as they tried to craft scoring opportunities.

It was full back Justin McMahon who drove forward to score in the 23rd minute, and centre back Ryan McMenamin who was in support for Brian Dooher to make it 1-6 to 0-3 three minutes later.

A superb point from substitute CJ McGourty raised Antrim spirits in the crowd of 18,159, but in the 29th minute, Tyrone struck for another goal.

Mulligan dispossessed Colin Brady 25 metres out, and there was only one thing on his mind as he set off, finishing with a stinging shot past Finucane.

Tyrone led by 2-6 to 0-5 at the break, and continued to look the part in the early stages of the second half.

Sean Cavanagh, Hughes, O’Neill and wing back Philip Jordan all hit the target as the gap grew to nine points.

But the dynamic of the game changed dramatically, Antrim appeared better equipped to cope with the soaring temperature, and the Red Hand challenge visibly wilted.

Tony Scullion led by example when he shrugged off two tackles to forge his way through for a point, and further scores followed from Cunningham and CJ McGourty, who by now had been joined by his older brother Kevin in the Antrim side.

In the 56th minute the game was right back in the melting pot when CJ McGourty sent Kevin McGourty in for a goal, and Cunningham’s fifth point left just a goal between the sides.

But the experienced Red Hands were able to win frees on the breakaway, which Martin Penrose and Sean Cavanagh converted to see them safely through to a semi-final meeting with either Monaghan or Down.

Antrim: J Finucane, C Brady, A Douglas, K O’Boyle, T Scullion (0-1), J Crozier, S Kelly, B Herron, A Gallagher, T O’Neill, K Niblock (1-1), J Loughrey, P Cunningham (0-5, 4f), M McCann (0-1), T McCann (0-1, 1f).

Subs: CJ McGourty (0-4) for Kelly (18), G O’Boyle for O’Neill (40), K McGourty for Herron (40), K Brady for T McCann (52)

Tyrone: P McConnell, M Swift, Justin McMahon (0-1), D Carlin, D Harte, R McMenaminn, P Jordan (0-1), K Hughes (1-1), C Cavanagh (0-1), B Dooher (0-1), S Cavanagh (0-3, 2f), Joe McMahon, M Penrose (0-2, 2f), S O’Neill (0-3, 1f), O Mulligan (1-0).

P Harte for Dooher (50) Sean O’Neill for McMenamin (50), C McCarron for D Harte (56), T McGuigan (0-1) for Hughes (66), B McGuigan for Mulligan (70 +1)

Referee: P McEnaney (Monaghan)

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