The Ulster championship’s status as the undisputed market leader in competitive provincial combat took another tumble yesterday with Tyrone repeating last year’s 11-point victory over Derry on their return to Celtic Park.
Ulster SFC quarter-final
Quickly following Monaghan’s nine-point win over Fermanagh and Donegal’s 16-point win over Antrim last weekend, this game also followed the predictable pre-match script though Derry’s third-quarter rally did at least make things interesting for 10 minutes or so.
On this showing, Tyrone have been busy in the eight weeks since their league fade-out, boosting their Ulster SFC prospects with a resounding victory at Celtic Park. Even allowing for Derry’s difficulties and player unavailability, this had to be a more satisfying victory for Mickey Harte than 12 months ago.
“Last year was academic because we got early goals to give us a comfortable position, but this time we had to play from start to finish,” said Tyrone’s manager. “We gave some people a taste of what Ulster championship football is about for the first time and getting them up to the speed of what is required.”
The next few weekends might be more competitive in Ulster but if we don’t get it before then, Donegal v Tyrone in Clones on June 18 should be an Ulster semi-final worthy of the name.
“But we have plenty to think about before that,” warned Harte. “I think in the first half we had 19 scoring opportunities and only got the ten – six wide and three short. That is not a great return. We have a lot to tidy up on because Donegal are going to be a different proposition and we definitely won’t get that amount of chances to score against them.”
Sean Cavanagh top-scored with 0-7, six from frees and there were a number of plus points for the Red Hands, not least the impact from the bench which contributed seven points (six from play). Darren McCurry, no doubt stung by his demotion to the bench, scored 0-3 from play after coming on in the 52nd minute. Fellow subs Lee Brennan, Declan McClure and David Mulgrew were also among the 11 different scorers for Harte’s side, debunking the perception that his team lack a cutting edge. As for rookie Conall McCann — considered a surprise starter in midfield — well he absolutely shone on his debut delivering a man of the match display.
Two Sean Cavanagh frees followed by a crisp score from Conall McCann set the tone early on. Peter Harte, who was off target with his first two efforts into a difficult wind, slung over a fourth and livewire Mark Bradley got on the end of a classic Tyrone counter-attack to make it five. After soaking up a period of Derry pressure, Niall Sludden slid in to win the turnover and in a flash Bradley slotted it over left-footed despite being off balance.
His influence waned once Niall Keenan moved across to mark him and Derry at least went toe-to-toe with their rivals in the second quarter, both teams scoring five points each.
Niall Loughlin got their opening point with a 35m free in the 17th minute and followed it up a minute later with their first from play.
Tyrone never looked rattled. They stretched the lead out to 0-8 to 0-2 with Rory Brennan’s point after 21 minutes.
Danny Heavron slung over Derry’s best point with the outside of the boot in a good Derry spell but Tiernan McCann replied for Tyrone before Cavanagh slotted over his fifth free of the opening half, much to the annoyance of Derry who were losing patience with some of referee Maurice Deegan’s decisions.
“Whenever you are second favourites, you need every decision and I thought some of the frees were very handy,” said Derry boss Damian Barton. “We are playing championship football. I just could not see it.” Tyrone headed to the dressing-rooms with a comfortable 0-10 to 0-5 lead.
The third quarter was easily the most competitive, with a real bite and intensity to the exchanges which was sadly lacking otherwise. Derry captain Enda Lynn led their charge with a point and several charging runs which caused Tyrone problems.
Niall Keenan and Heron also helped closed the gap to 0-11 to 0-8 and suddenly it was game on. Unmarked Aidan McCrory ghosted through for the game’s only real goal chance after 47 minutes. His initial shot was saved by Ben McKinless before Niall Keenan blocked the rebound on the line.
There were a couple of flashpoints with Frank Burns correctly black-carded for tripping Keenan, while no action was taken after Mattie Donnelly clashed with Chrissy McKaigue off the ball.
Tyrone then stretched their legs and pulled away, outscoring the home side by 11 points to three in the closing 24 minutes with David Mulgrew, Conall McCann, Declan McClure and Colm Cavanagh all on the scoresheet on a good day at the office for the defending Ulster champions.
B McKinless; N Keenan (0-01), B Rogers, K McKaigue; C McFaul (0-01), C McKaigue, C McWilliams (0-01); C McAtamney, D Heavron (0-01, f); R Bell, N Loughlin (0-04, 3f), E Lynn (0-01); D Tallon, E McGuckin, B Heron (0-01, f).
M Lynch for Bell (48), S McGuigan (0-01, f) for Tallon (58), M McEvoy for McGuckin (64), C Nevin for McAtamney (67)
N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, P Hampsey; T McCann (0-01), R Brennan (0-01), C Meyler; C Cavanagh (0-01), C McCann (0-02); K McGeary, N Sludden, P Harte (0-02, 1f, 1 ’45); M Bradley (0-01), S Cavanagh (0-07, 6f), M Donnelly.
F Burns for McGeary (29), R McNabb for Meyler (h-t), D McCurry (0-03) for Bradley (51), D Mulgrew (0-01) for Burns (BC 55), D McClure (0-01) for Sludden (61), L Brennan (0-02, 1f) for C Cavanagh (63).
M Deegan (Laois).
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