Along with a few other things, Tyrone proved there is no substitute for experience as they went through the gears in the second half and unleashed the full extent of their power on Down to retain their Ulster SFC title at Clones.
Things were not going to plan for the defending champions at half-time.
Leading by 0-7 to 0-5, they had wasted numerous opportunities and were relieved to see Darragh O’Hanlon’s terrific goal chance flash wide of the far post just before the break.
Colm Cavanagh later admitted the team got “a rollicking” from their manager at the interval, and they responded with seven unanswered points in the third quarter to completely take the game away from Down.
Two superb finishes by substitute Ronan O’Neill, the second a delightful chip over the goalkeeper, sealed a 15th Anglo Celt for Tyrone and the always unflappable Mickey Harte felt that despite Down’s good second quarter, the result was never really in doubt.
“To be truthful I wasn’t concerned at half-time. We weren’t finishing the way we ought to, but I was still happy that Down had thrown the kitchen sink at us in the first half and we were still ahead.”
Tyrone’s strong finish to last year’s decider against Donegal, when they hit the last three points to snatch victory, was referenced by Harte at the break.
“We had the experience of doing that. I said to them at half-time, if this goes all the way like last year that’s okay, we’ve been there, we know what that’s like so we can handle that again.
“We felt we were playing into the scoring goals in the second half and while it was a tight game, I knew that if it went to the wire in the last five minutes that we would know what that would feel like.
“It’s important to stamp your authority on the game and in the semi-final against Donegal we did before half-time, this time we did it after half-time.
“When you do it without scoring it’s not that effective but when you add scores to it, then you’re in a very good position.”
Tyrone had 10 different players on the scoresheet and the superb cameo performances from O’Neill and Declan McClure proved that there is real depth to this squad as they head into the All-Ireland series in Croke Park.
Harte also felt his team’s supreme strength and conditioning was a big factor in roasting temperatures.
“We knew we had players good enough to come in and make a difference. It wasn’t easy out there, Down played very well and came at us with everything they had.
“I probably think they ran out of steam a wee bit. If they had been able to keep up that intensity for the 70 minutes the game would have been much much closer. We have the experience and more big games behind us at this level and that told in the end.”
Despite impressive wins over Armagh and Monaghan, Down were big underdogs but gave it everything in the first half. They were undone by some wrong options once they got inside Tyrone’s ‘45’ and Tyrone’s disciplined tackling coughed up very few easy chances for Down to work their way into the game.
Tyrone led 0-6 to 0-2 after 21 minutes with centre-back Padraig Hampsey scoring twice along with Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly and Niall Sludden.
Out-of-sorts Sean Cavanagh kicked a few chances away and sensibly fisted his next opportunity over the bar, with Shay Millar and pacey Ryan Johnston replying for Down.
Eamonn Burns’ side’s best spell was in the 15 minutes before half-time. They hit three points in a row from Niall Donnelly, Darragh O’Hanlon (free) and Conor Maginn to make things interesting.
It was a case of what might have been when O’Hanlon flashed their best goal chance wide of the far post in the 34th minute with Tyrone leading 0-6 to 0-5.
Deep in stoppage time Donnelly fisted over his second — Tyrone’s first point in 18 minutes — after good work by Mark Bradley.
Down will have been delighted with their first-half efforts and felt they were still well in the game — but they had no answer once Tyrone went through the gears at the start of the second half.
Only 10 seconds had elapsed when David Mulgrew stretched their lead.
Sub Declan McClure — who replaced the black-carded Kieran McGeary — had a huge influence around the middle as Tyrone devoured the Down kickouts.
Cavanagh, Mark Bradley (two) and the McCann brothers were all on target as Tyrone ruthlessly took the game away from Down, who were appearing in their first Ulster final since 2012.
The loss of Kevin McKernan for a black card offence on Sean Cavanagh after 42 minutes was a huge blow to Down.
Caolan Mooney and Ryan Johnston scored their first points after half-time midway through the second half.
That reduced the deficit to 0-14 to 0-7 but O’Neill’s first goal killed any brief hopes of a comeback.
McClure and Mattie Donnelly combined with the latter, finding O’Neill at the back post, and he tucked his chance away perfectly in the 56th minute.
Nine minutes later he scored with a majestic chip after latching on to Darren McCurry’s brilliant crossfield ball. From that point, Tyrone were outscored by five points to two but their thoughts had no doubt turned to an All-Ireland quarter-final in three weeks time.
Scorers for Tyrone:
R O’Neill (2-0); M Donnelly, P Hampsey (0-3 each); S Cavanagh, P Harte (1 free), M Bradley (0-2 each), T McCann, C McCann, D Mulgrew, N Sludden, D McClure (0-1 each)
Scorers for Down:
D O’Hanlon (0-4, 3 frees); C Mooney (0-3); R Johnston (0-2); N Donnelly, C Maginn, S Millar, C Maginn, J Murphy, M Cunningham (free) (0-1 each)
N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, P Hampsey, P Harte; C Cavanagh, C McCann; D Mulgrew, N Sludden, K McGeary; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, M Donnelly
D McClure for McGeary (BC, 35+1), Darren McCurry for S Cavanagh (50), R O’Neill for Bradley (54), C Meyler for Mulgrew (55), C McShane for C McCann (59), L Brennan for Sludden (66)
M Cunningham; N McParland, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon, C McGovern, C Mooney; K McKernan, N Donnelly; P Turley, C Maginn, S Millar; J Johnston, C Harrison, R Johnston
J Murphy for McKernan (BC, 42), D McKibbin for Turley (47), D O’Hare for Jerome Johnston (50), M Poland for Millar (58), A Carr for Donnelly (59), S Dornan for Maginn (61)
Joe McQuillan (Cavan)
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