Experience tells for Tyrone in thriller

Tyrone's Dermot Carlin gets the ball away as Meath's Ciarán Lenehan attempts to block.  Picture: Stephen McCarhy/Sportsfile

ALL-IRELAND SFC RD4 QUALIFIER:
Meath 2-9 Tyrone 0-17
Decloaking after Championship games this summer, Tyrone players have been noticed sporting strange, almost bra-like upper body apparel.

A little investigation has revealed they are GPS unit holders for tracking the players’ various movements and contortions.

If they track heart rate too, then manager Mickey Harte could do worse than strap one on himself, just to be on the safe side.

Because at times on Saturday evening, the three-time All-Ireland-winning boss admitted he experienced near palpitations on the sideline.

Overcoming Meath by two points in what was at times a gripping Croke Park contest was, he claimed, “heart attack stuff”.

Thankfully for him and his Tyrone team, they had a midfielder in Sean Cavanagh who logged some serious mileage and did so with some game-defining scores and interventions along the way.

From a purists’ perspective, his eight points, including one kicked after a trademark and sumptuous dummy, was enough to set the mind alight.

For Harte — though he bristled afterwards at the inference of cynical play by his team — Cavanagh’s decision to haul down a Meath player on the way to a likely score late on, earning himself a yellow card, may have been just as crucial. What Harte was happy to state was that in the long and storied Tyrone senior career of both himself and Cavanagh, which stretches back 10 years now, this was the Moy man’s finest game.

“He was the outstanding player on the field,” said Harte. “Probably as good as I’ve ever seen him play, and I’ve seen him play lots.

“It was absolute leadership. Whenever the team was struggling, he just broke the line. He took on the responsibility. He didn’t ask anything of the players. He said, ‘Look at me go’. That’s really what he did.

“He was probably Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan and Brian McGuigan all rolled into one. He just did things that needed to be done and did them with authority and did them for the 70 minutes.

“That was the biggest thing of all. Because the way he played in the first half, you thought, ‘He’ll never be able to stick this again for another 35 minutes’.

“But he did. And his frees. A lot of the frees he took looked easy. And they were so crucial. That takes a lot of nerve as well.”

Cavanagh himself admitted after the Round 3 defeat of Kildare that it was all starting to feel a little like 2008 again. Back then, Tyrone blazed a Championship winning trail through the qualifiers and Cavanagh ended up being named Player of the Year.

Stranger things have happened this season already than a repeat occurrence of both. Tyrone dealt with a strong challenge from a lively Meath team on Saturday, particularly in the third quarter of the game when Meath had fought back to lead.

They possessed a vital know-how to get the job done and approaching the business end of the season, that sort of knowledge is golden.

Captain Stephen O’Neill even forsook himself for the team late on, earning a second yellow card and a dismissal to stop Meath getting the score that may have won them the game. Still, Harte conceded that they could so easily have lost.

Whether it was luck or guile, Tyrone are through to the last eight and with Ulster champions Monaghan the opposition this Saturday evening, they will fancy their chances.

They struggled to shake off Meath though, even after moving 0-11 to 1-4 clear at half-time thanks to five points from Cavanagh. The Royals were determined to show their solid Leinster final performance was no fluke and in Eamonn Wallace had an outstanding performer. The speedy 19-year old hit 1-3, his seventh minute goal giving him the inspiration to add three crucial points from play. In attack with him, Mickey Newman registered 1-5 including a second-half penalty conversion that helped reel in that half-time deficit.

But when it came to it, Tyrone just got their scores that little bit easier in the crucial final quarter of the game and won because of it.

“One of the things we have achieved this year is we have reconnected the Meath people with the Meath team,” said manager Mick O’Dowd. “People believe in this team again. That was an important step that had to be made. When we look back on the game, we’ll regret the first-half, to be honest. I know there was a slight breeze but we weren’t happy with ourselves. There were a couple of chances in the second-half that we could and should have taken as well. In fairness, Tyrone kicked 17 scores and we kicked 11. That was the difference.”

Scorers for Tyrone: S Cavanagh (0-8, six frees), D McCurry (0-5, three frees, one 45), Matthew Donnelly (0-2), S O’Neill and A Cassidy (0-1 each).

Scorers for Meath: M Newman (1-5, four frees, one 45), E Wallace (1-3), S Bray (0-1).

TYRONE: P McConnell; R McKenna, C Clarke, C McCarron; C McGinley, P Harte, C Gormley; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, J McMahon; D McCurry, S O’Neill, M Penrose.

Subs for Tyrone: A Cassidy for Mark Donnelly h/t, D Carlin for McKenna 51, K Coney for Penrose 65, P McNeice for C Cavanagh 70.

MEATH: P O’Rourke; D Keogan, K Reilly, B Menton; P Harnan, M Burke, S Kenny; B Meade, C Gillespie; E Wallace, D Carroll, G Reilly; S Bray, J Sheridan, M Newman.

Subs for Meath: B Farrell for Sheridan 42, P Byrne for Carroll 50, A Tormey for Meade 53, C Lenehan for Kenny 65.

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).


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