Sean Cavanagh: 'We became men today'

Tyrone 0-13 Donegal 0-11: “We became men today.” Seán Cavanagh had proven long before now that he is most certainly one of those but you knew what he meant. This Tyrone team hadn’t earned their spurs before yesterday. Now they have.

It needed Cavanagh and his brother Colm to bring this victory to bear, in doing so ending the county’s six years without a provincial title. But then the kids played their part too as evidenced by the impressions made by the handful of young twentysomethings who came off the bench.

Having lost Mattie Donnelly to a black card and trailed in Donegal’s wake by four points at the break, Tyrone looked anything but champions only to recover in a most convincing manner.

They didn’t actually go ahead until Peter Harte’s epic point five minutes into additional time after Michael Murphy had pushed a long-range free wide. From the kick-out following Harte’s score, last year’s U21 All-Ireland winning captain Kieran McGeary reacted sharpest and sent over another point.

Tyrone had caught Donegal, who went 21 second-half minutes without a point, by the 53rd minute through a Niall Morgan free. Donegal went ahead on three more occasions but Tyrone cancelled out each of those advantages.

Likening this final to a game of chess would serve as an injustice to the time-honoured battle of minds. This was more like a game of draughts where the moves were repeated by each side before one eventually did more than the other and they were forced to concede.

Watched by a 33,433 Clones crowd, Tyrone showed great commitment to get behind the ball whenever they lost possession, which was regular, but were not as sharp to track the intricate movement of Ryan McHugh and Odhrán Mac Niallais. McHugh was involved in five first-half points, scoring three and winning two frees that Paddy McBrearty put over.

“The nature of Tyrone is that they give you a lot of possession and they invite you on,” said Rory Gallagher. “We knew that coming in here. We just weren’t able to break them down as consistently in the second half.” Going forward, they looked out of ideas and had amassed nine wides by the break, most of which came by way of kicking low percentage chances. They looked to be firmly behind the eight ball – and yet were only three behind, 0-7 to 0-4 – when Mattie Donnelly was black carded for clashing with Eoin McHugh after the Donegal forward had offloaded the ball. Both men required medical treatment after which Donnelly was penalised.

Then Cathal McShane suffered the same fate following an incident close to the end-line. The young Tyrone forward appeared to have been punished for a trip on Éamonn McGee although there were reports suggesting he had been dismissed and replaced for having a verbal exchange with an umpire.

Neither of their absences dented Tyrone’s spirit, though. Donegal did pull five ahead with the first score of the second half but the next five were all Tyrone’s. Colm Cavanagh was having a field day mopping up ball as Donegal struggled to find the space they enjoyed in the first half while Cavanagh senior and Peter Harte were combining up-front to cut Donegal’s lead.

Pushing up on the Donegal kick-out was reaping dividends for Tyrone as was their ability to come at Gallagher’s side from angles across the entire breadth of St Tiernach’s Park. A beautiful Mac Niallais point in the 57th minute after Cathal McCarron had the only goal chance of the game ended an extended barren spell for Donegal. Cavanagh’s score that drew them level again was a controversial one as it appeared Frank McGlynn may have been fouled by Jonathan Monroe prior to it. Monroe was putting in some major hits, which his team-mates can’t but have fed from in terms of inspiration.

Murphy converted a free but Tyrone came straight back via substitute Darren McCurry. Christy Toye slotted over another but then Cavanagh managed to contort himself in such a way to point in claustrophobic circumstances. A mistimed hit by Monroe gave Murphy an outside chance of restoring Donegal’s lead but it tailed wide and the finish belonged to Tyrone, their young guns sprung from the bench coming to the fore.

“We have known that for some time that we have people who are eager to get on this team,” smiled Mickey Harte afterwards.

“There is a fight to get on the 26 and then a fight to get on the 15 but you need people on the bench who want to come in and contribute and not just say “I hope I get a wee bit of a game here. The lads that came on there, they worked as hard as anyone else and when they get a piece of the action they want to grab it.”

Once upon a time, Cavanagh was the greenhorn in glory. Now he leads a bevy of them. “There’s a new team coming in Tyrone and it culminated here to some degree today. The lads who came off the bench made a huge impact in the second half. We kept at it and got our rewards in the end.”

Scorers for Tyrone:

S. Cavanagh (0-3); N. Morgan (frees), P. Harte (0-2 each); C. McShane, N. Sludden, C. McCarron, R. Brennan, D. McCurry, K. McGeary (0-1 each).

Scorers for Donegal:

R. McHugh, P. McBrearty (2 frees) (0-3 each); O. Mac Niallas, M. Murphy (1 45, 1 free) (0-2 each); C. Toye (0-1).

TYRONE:

N. Morgan; C. McCarron, R. McNamee; J. McMahon; R. McNabb, P. Harte, T. McCann; C. Cavanagh, M. Donnelly; N. Sludden, S. Cavanagh (c), C. McShane; C. McAliskey, R. O’Neill.

Subs for Tyrone:

R. Brennan for M. Donnelly (black, 35+2); M. Bradley for C. McShane (black, 35+4); J. Monroe for R. O’Neill (54); D. McCurry for C. McAliskey (63); K. McGeary for J. McMahon (70+1).

DONEGAL:

M.A. McGinley; É. McGee, N. McGee, P. McGrath; K. Lacey; C. Gillespie, F. McGlynn, A. Thompson; R. Kavanagh, O. Mac Niallais; M. O’Reilly, R. McHugh, E. McHugh; P. McBrearty, M. Murphy (c).

Subs for Donegal:

M. McElhinney for E. McHugh (blood, 33-37); McElhinney for R. Kavanagh (44); M. McHugh for A. Thompson (54); C. Toye for F. McGlynn (inj, 64); E. Gallagher for C. Gillespie, A. Thompson for E. McHugh (both 67); C. McFadden for P. McBrearty (70+1).

Referee:

D. Coldrick (Meath).


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