TYRONE’S dazzling form this season was ultimately rewarded with silverware in yesterday’s ESB All-Ireland MFC final in Croke Park. However, they had to withstand a ferocious and dramatic late Cork revival before surviving.
In an extraordinary finale, Tyrone very nearly relinquished control of a match they had been in charge of for 55 minutes. Cork, as has been their trademark all season, defiantly fought back despite the bleak nature of their prospects when Tyrone led 1-12 to 0-7 with the clock ticking down.
Cork adopted a simple but greatly effective game plan in the closing stages. Towering attacker Stephen O’Mahony was introduced at the edge of the square and along with the brilliant Dan MacEoin, provided Cork with a powerful focal point to their play.
Cork pumped a plethora of long, raking balls in the direction of the Tyrone goalmouth with Damian Cahalane their best exponent. O’Mahony and MacEoin thrived as their physique caused problems in the Red Hands goalmouth, while the likes of John O’Rourke and Kevin Hallissey also thrived.
The fight back began when MacEoin, whose point kicking was exceptional, curled over a point and was truly ignited when Hallissey found the net a minute later. O’Mahony palmed down a high punt by Luke Connolly into the direction of Brian Hurley who swiftly transferred to the onrushing Hallissey and the Éire Óg man’s shot was precise as the ball nestled in the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Colm Spiers.
A flurry of points followed, O’Rourke kicking over off his right, MacEoin shrugging off the covering Tyrone defence to point another and O’Rourke trimming the gap to one with a score with his left.
Suddenly Tyrone were clinging to a precarious one-point lead and were under serious pressure. However, they managed to break upfield in a rare foray and midfielder Harry Óg Conlon broke clear, poised to find the net and clinch the game. His fierce drive was brilliantly saved by Cork goalkeeper David Hanrahan yet the rebound fell kindly for Ronan O’Neill and he tapped over a vital and precious point for Tyrone.
That pushed them into a comfortable two-point advantage and a final MacEoin score, his fifth of the game, was all Cork could muster as time ran out on their desperate efforts to force a replay.
When the dust had settled after such a riveting and exciting finale, the end result was just. Cork could have qualms over the amount of injury-time allotted by referee Michael Duffy and his decision to dubiously penalise Matthew O’Shea for picking the ball off the ground at a critical juncture. However, the greater consistency and style of Tyrone’s performance entitled them to the victory garlands.
Raymond Munroe’s team played some splendid football. Their defending was brilliant in the opening-half as they swarmed around Cork players in possession and suffocated them into coughing up ball. Tyrone hit Cork frequently on the break as their play was packed with strength, dynamism and impressive ball-handling.
By the 20th minute Tyrone were 1-5 to 0-0 to the good. Niall Sludden, Eunan Deeney and Thomas Canavan all notched a point each, while John McCullagh grabbed a brace. Greencastle player McCullagh shone all afternoon with an excellent offensive display at full-forward. The Tyrone goal arrived in the 20th minute courtesy of Conlon after a sublime ball by Ronan O’Neill. Conlon’s initial flick was tipped away by David Hanrahan but he blasted the rebound to the net.
Cork staged a fine recovery before the interval. Brian Hurley launched over three tremendous points from long-range frees, MacEoin chipped in with another and Hallissey lashed a shot over after a searing run through the Tyrone defence.
Indeed Cork could have bridged the gap further but for a few errant shots in front of goal and the constant pressure of the Tyrone defence who always had plenty players back helping out. The Red Hands had the final say of the half courtesy of Michael Donaghy to lead 1-6 to 0-5 at the interval.
Tyrone made a strong burst after half-time with McCullagh and O’Neill on target with points from play and a free to move 1-8 to 0-5 ahead.
Cork fought back through the excellent marksmanship of MacEoin and O’Rourke to only trail 1-8 to 0-7 by the 37th minute. But then Tyrone took over proceedings for a crucial phase midway through the second-half. Their marquee attacker Ronan O’Neill was brilliantly thwarted by Cork defender Thomas Clancy yet Tyrone had other players to pick up the slack.
Ryan Devlin, Conan Grugan (2) and McCullagh all raised white flags and they entered the last quarter with a sizeable cushion as they led 1-12 to 0-7.
It appeared a sufficient advantage to see Tyrone home in a comfortable fashion yet Cork were not daunted by the scale of the deficit. They fought back heroically and made Tyrone sweat in the closing stages.
Yet Tyrone had enough work done earlier in the game to hold on to secure the Tom Markham Cup for the ninth time.
Scorers for Tyrone: J McCullagh 0-4; H Óg Conlon 1-0; C Grugan, R O’Neill (1f) 0-2 each; N Sludden, M Donaghy, E Deeney, T Canavan (1f), R Devlin 0-1 each.
Cork: D McEoin 0-5; K Hallissey 1-1; J O’Rourke, B Hurley (3f) 0-3 each.
Tyrone substitutes: P McNulty for Donaghy (40), L Girvan for Devlin (48), D Donnelly for Tierney (54).
Cork: D Fitzgerald for Hegarty (31), L Connolly for Sugrue (43), D O’Donovan for Fulignati (44), S O’Mahony for O’Sullivan (49), K Sheehan for O’Rourke (inj) (61).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).
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