Meath 0-19 Tyrone 2-14
Mickey Harte labelled his critics “sad people who are negative all the time” after watching his team prevail in an epic qualifier struggle.
The Red Hands bounced back from their Ulster exit by turning in a character-laden display in a game that ran to well over 100 minutes in sun-kissed Navan.
Meath fans among the 7,049 crowd and manager Andy McEntee cried foul at the final whistle after several big calls from referee Paddy Neilan went against them.
They felt the excellent James McEntee was fouled and that they deserved a free-in with a point between them and just seconds of extra-time remaining.
They were also denied a 64th-minute penalty following a foul on Cillian O’Sullivan which was given as a regular free instead.
Andy McEntee couldn’t understand how Tyrone’s Cathal McShane was allowed kick the equaliser that forced extra-time almost 40 seconds after the five minutes of allotted injury-time was up.
Harte’s mood also darkened in the post-match interview when asked specifically about former captain Sean Cavanagh’s recent criticism of Tyrone’s defensive system.
Harte initially laughed and said “everyone’s entitled to their opinion” before becoming visibly frustrated.
“I’m very happy with the way we’re putting together our team and how they play football and I don’t think anybody can complain about the excitement that was out there today,” said the three-time All-Ireland-winning manager.
“Every game isn’t going to be classic football and I ask the question too, people say about defensive football and low-scoring games, would you rather have a low-scoring game that you don’t know the outcome until the end, or would you rather have somebody at half-time down in a game from anything from 12 to 20 points? You’d only sleep for the second half of that match.
“Is that more exciting than a game that’s defensive, but quality defensive? I don’t believe so. So some of the people that are spouting about that just seem to have an agenda which is negative and they just seem to be sad people who are negative all the time. So maybe they should look in the mirror and brighten up a wee bit and look at the bright side of life.”
Harte knew better than to offer the same advice about brightening up to Meath chief McEntee who shed tears when asked if he was angry and emotional after the result.
Tyrone could have put Meath away by half-time if they’d taken all their goal chances, though the Royals were terrific in the second half and deserved something from the game.
“Where do we go now?” said McEntee.
“We have to wait until January before we play another game. That’s the killer. And we had the same (referee controversy) with Waterford (hurlers) last week. But they have another game in a week, they have a chance to put it right. We don’t. So we pay the ultimate price.
“Everybody has to look at the bigger picture — you’ve got to get the basics right. Refereeing is a fairly basic requirement. This affects everybody. I’ve a family, all the management team have a family, all the players have families, wives, girlfriends, there’s one or two kids in there too. So everybody gets affected by this.
Kieran McGeary’s foul on the lively O’Sullivan looked a certain penalty and a goal would have put Meath 1-12 to 1-9 up with five minutes remaining, though Neilan only awarded a regular free.
“He’s standing, what, less than 10 yards away from Cillian O’Sullivan who ends up in the small (square), I’ve seen it on video,” said McEntee.
“He ends up inside the small square and he gives a free?”
McEntee is two years into a three-year term, and said it’s difficult to look forward now.
“The hard thing for everybody is to go back and start again and put yourself in that position whereby there’s no guarantees for anything (regarding refereeing decisions). And maybe fall victim again. That’s what players find difficult and management, that’s what everybody finds difficult.”
Tyrone were without the injured Lee Brennan and the suspended Peter Harte so the scoring responsibility fell to McAliskey.
He scored 1-8, whacked seven wides, and had two more goal chances that he was unable to take.
Tyrone led 1-6 to 0-7 at half-time and the game opened out into a score-for-score epic from there on; Ben Brennan doing the needful for Meath and Frank Burns delivering for Tyrone.
The 2016 and 2017 Ulster champions have navigated all four rounds of the qualifiers in the past and Harte hopes this grueller stands to them.
“The next game will tell a tale,” he said. “Do we really want to build on what we achieved here? I hope we do and if we do I think we’ll be heading in a good direction.”
Scorers for Tyrone: C. McAliskey (1-8, 6 frees); H. Lougran (1-0); F. Burns and C. McShane (0-2 each); M. McKernan and N. Sludden (0-1 each).
Scorers for Meath: B. Brennan (0-6, 3 frees); D. Lenihan (0-4, 4 frees); C. O’Sullivan and J. McEntee (0-2 each); D. Keogan, J. Wallace, M. Burke, T. O’Reilly and S. Glynn (0-1 each).
TYRONE: M. O’Neill; H.P. McGeary, R. McNamee, P. Hampsey; T. McCann, M. McKernan, F. Burns; C. Cavanagh, P. McNulty; M. Donnelly (C), N. Sludden, C. Meyler; C. McShane, R. Donnelly, C. McAliskey.
Subs: K. McGeary for Meyler, R. Brennan for HP McGeary (49); H. Loughran for R. Donnelly (53); D. McClure for McNulty (62); R. McNabb for McNamee (68). R. O’Neill for red carded McCann for e/t; Meyler for McKernan (79); C. McCann for McShane (86).
MEATH: A. Colgan; S. Gallagher, C. McGill, S. Lavin; J. McEntee, S. Curran, D. Keogan; B. Menton (C), A. Flanagan; M. Burke, B. Brennan, C. O’Sullivan; G. Reilly, D. Lenihan, J. Wallace.
Subs: T. O’Reilly for Lenihan (55); E. Wallace for Burke (56); B. McMahon for J. Wallace (58). C O’Brien for red carded Brennan for e/t; S. Glynn for Gallagher (75), D. O’Neill for McGill (h/t e/t); Lenihan for Lavin (84).
Ref: P. Neilan (Roscommon).
Meath supporters sensed the game was up when Harry Loughran netted in the first-half of extra-time. Tyrone moved five points ahead shortly after and relied on that cushion as Meath outscored them 0-4 to 0-0 in the second-half of extra-time.
Even with Peter Harte to return from suspension, Tyrone’s lack of scoring power is concerning.
Connor McAliskey hit 1-5 of their 1-6 first-half tally. Their starting forwards scored just 1-5 from play in almost 100 minutes.
Meath forward Graham Reilly was shown two yellow cards but didn’t get sent off. How? Because the second came in extra-time and a 2015 rule change decreed that normal-time cards don’t carry over.
Amid the drama, Tiernan McCann’s straight red for a blatant elbow almost went unnoticed. He was replaced shortly after for extra time though will be suspended for their Round 2 qualifier.
Attacker Lee Brennan is still out for Tyrone with hamstring trouble and is a big loss considering their lack of scoring options.
Tyrone deployed Colm Cavanagh as their sweeper as usual and sought to hit Meath on the break.
It worked well and but for poor finishing they would have won it in normal time.
BEST ON SHOW
Connor McAliskey was Tyrone’s game-breaker with 1-8, 1-2 of which came from play. His other six points were from frees, one of which he won. He had a thrilling duel with rookie Meath defender Shane Gallagher. Frank Burns was excellent too as were Meath duo Cillian O’Sullivan and James McEntee.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Roscommon’s Paddy Neilan had a tough evening. He dished out 49 frees - 30 to Tyrone - and frustrated both camps at times but mainly Meath. He left the field with a Garda escort to a chorus of boos.
Tyrone will be in this morning’s draw for Round 2 of the qualifiers.
Those games will take place on June 23/24. Meath’s season is over, leaving them six months until the O’Byrne Cup in January.
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