Tyrone 2-11 Down 3-8
A game that had been a sinner transformed itself into a saint by David Coldrick’s last shrill of the whistle.
How glad the Meath referee was that there was nothing lost or gained by the moment he called time, for in that stalemate there was redemption for one of the country’s best officials.
Played out in front of a 13,222 crowd, he challenged for the dishonour of being the stage’s biggest villain. Those in Down may nominate Donal O’Hare or Declan Rooney, such were the parts they played in Tyrone fashioning a late rally to save their hides.
But Coldrick topped the bill, failing to dish out what was a stonewall black card to Conor Maginn in the 24th minute for a deliberate pull-down on Mark Donnelly.
The Tyrone forward was still able to find the net with a stab of his foot but advantage was not given as Coldrick had already blown his whistle.
As someone who had provided the GAA’s official video briefing on Gaelic football’s new black card and advantage rules in December, it made his errors all the more significant.
Peter Harte slammed home the resultant penalty but Maginn wasn’t shown a card of any kind and it looked a nightmare scenario for Coldrick and Tyrone when the Down wing-forward himself goaled in the 58th minute to bring the resurgent visitors to within one point.
When Down fired over three further scores without reply to move two ahead in the 63rd minute, a remarkable nine-point turnaround from 10 minutes earlier when Darren McCurry’s goal put Tyrone seven up, the absence of that black card appeared all the more significant.
But there was enough time for more drama, beginning with the failure of Coldrick to award Kyle Coney an obvious free in the 67th minute.
O’Hare then inexplicably missed the target from a close range free after some fine work from substitute Ryan Johnston and Niall Madine created the opportunity.
Maginn eventually saw black for a cynical foul on Sean Cavanagh and the Tyrone midfielder duly converted the free to cut Tyrone’s deficit to one.
In the fourth minute of injury-time, Coldrick was spot-on in awarding Cavanagh another free after he noticed Rooney kicking out against the former Footballer of the Year. From distance, he kicked successfully again and both Tyrone and the referee were offered a reprieve.
After an opening half of turgid football — Down to blame for the manner in which they set out their stall and Tyrone for their awful shooting (eight wides) — the improvement couldn’t have been more stated.
The responsibility lay mostly with Down who, trailing 1-5 to 0-3 at the break but having conceded just two points from play, chose to open up their shoulders and make three personnel switches.
“We asked the boys very politely if they could step up at half-time,” smiled James McCartan.
“We probably tried to change the style of the game that we were playing and we introduced people appropriate for that style of play.
“Look, it’s a gamble, you throw three subs on at half-time and if it doesn’t work... I keep calling those things ‘sackable offences’. But some of them worked today and I don’t want much praise for them because the next day they mightn’t.
“Obviously when the goal went in you know you were fearing the worst and just the wee bit of character that we got the goal back straight away meant that maybe the wee mice started running around Tyrone’s heads and I mean that with the greatest respect. It’s not a flippant comment. It just puts a wee bit of doubt into their head and gives ourselves a wee bit of confidence.”
Subs Benny Coulter and Jerome Johnston injected Down with impetus and assisted the brilliant Kevin McKernan, who appeared unable to continue at one stage in the second half, in salvaging Down’s afternoon. Conor Laverty’s repositioning closer to the Tyrone goal also helped. The thought and work-rate put into Down’s second and third goals, O’Hare’s coming in the 55th minute after Laverty and McKernan combined with him, and Maginn’s being set up by Laverty, were a far cry from the first half when they kicked ball aimlessly into a three-man attack.
Aidan Carr’s 41st minute penalty, which saw Niall Morgan correctly black carded for tripping Jerome Johnston (although it didn’t tally with the penalty call against Maginn), appeared to give Down some foothold in the game.
That was until Kyle Coney spun over a couple of fine points and after sending over a mammoth free Darren McCurry beat Brendan McVeigh with a well-placed strike following a gut-busting run by Aidan McCrory.
Seven points in the difference at that stage, few saw anything other than a Tyrone win. Tyrone certainly didn’t. That was the problem, as much as Down’s resilience.
Scorers for Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-5 (3f), D McCurry 1-2 (0-2f), P Harte 1-0 (pen), K Coney 0-3, N Morgan 0-1 (f).
Scorers for Down: D O’Hare 1-2 (0-2f), A Carr (pen), C Maginn 1-0 each, A Rogers, N Madine, C Garvey, C Laverty, M Poland, B Coulter 0-1 each.
TYRONE: N Morgan; B Tierney, D McBride, A McCrory; T McCann, Mattie Donnelly, P Harte; C Cavanagh, C Clarke; Mark Donnelly, S Cavanagh, C McGinley; N McKenna, D McCurry, K Coney.
Subs for Tyrone: R McKenna for T McCann (inj 28); S O’Neill for N McKenna (53); M O’Neill for N Morgan (bc, 40); C Gormley for D McBride, Justin McMahon for B Tierney (both 62); M Penrose for C McGinley (68).
DOWN: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, C Garvey; D Rooney, A Carr, R Boyle; P Turley, A Rogers; C Maginn, M Poland, K McKernan; C Laverty, N Madine, D O’Hare.
Subs for Down: R Johnston for R Boyle, B Coulter for P Turley, J Johnston for A Rogers (all ht); L Doyle for J Johnston (inj 51); D Turley for C Garvey (58); P Devlin for C Maginn (black, 70).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath).
Two trigger points: Donal O’Hare’s 69th minute miss from a free, which would have put Down three points ahead, and Sean Cavanagh’s success in sending over his equalising effort in the fourth minute of injury time.
Talk of the town
Down’s comeback was trumped by O’Hare’s miss which was in turn trumped by David Coldrick’s inconsistency.
Did that just happen?
Sean Cavanagh pointed a free in the first-half after Down were penalised for encroaching on Niall Morgan’s 45. Also, what’s with the X on the back of the Tyrone training tops?
Best on show
Substitutes Benny Coulter and Ryan Johnston were instigators in the Down fightback as much as they helped turn the game into one to remember, but McKernan’s efforts in both halves were marvellous. Ciarán McGinley was superb in turning over ball for Tyrone.
Black card watch
Two — one for Niall Morgan and another for Maginn at the death, but he should have been seen one much, much earlier.
Hats off to James McCartan for ripping up his midfield and throwing in Benny Coulter alongside Kevin McKernan. But why the wait?
The man in black
A dog of a day for Coldrick. That Conor Maginn scored a goal added salt to the wounds and Kyle Coney was denied an obvious free towards the end. It was also a dubious free for Tyrone which led to their second goal.
The counties do it all again in Newry next Saturday.
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