Cavanagh comeback inspires Tyrone to deny valiant Derry
Sean Cavanagh returned from his injury nightmare to inspire Tyrone to a narrow win over bitter rivals Derry at Healy Park.
The former Footballer of the Year – in his first appearance since last season's National League Division 2 final against Kildare – fired over seven points as the holders came from behind to win a repeat of last year's final in front of a crowd of 4,089.
Conor McAliskey, one of eight Red Hand debutants, came off the bench to score the crucial goal three minutes from the end to deny a dogged Oak Leaf side that looked set to claim the victory.
Derry new boys Ryan Ferris and Ryan Bell showed up well in the opening half – with Ballinderry attacker Bell slotting a '45' and landing a wonderful point from play.
The Red Hands remained in touch thanks to the place-kicking of Cavanagh and Stephen O'Neill – although they didn't register their first point from play until the 23rd minute, when O'Neill gave them the lead for the first time.
Cavanagh and Mattie Donnelly tagged on quality scores to open up a three-point advantage, but an Oak Leaf blitz in the closing minutes of the half saw Eoin Bradley knock over two points and James Kielt hoist a spectacular effort to tie it up at 0-7 each.
Derry made it six on the spin, midfielder PJ McCloskey powering over a couple of points to push them three ahead. But back came Tyrone, two more Cavanagh frees tying it up at 0-10 apiece.
Another Kielt special restored Derry's three-point cushion, but McAliskey's opportunistic goal was the decisive score and there was no way back for the disappointed Derry side after Colin Devlin sent a snapshot just wide of the post in the dying moments.
scorers – Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-7 (5f), C McAliskey 1-0, S O'Neill 0-3 (2fs), Mattie Donnelly 0-2, K Gallagher, P Harte 0-1 each. Derry: J Kielt 0-4 (2fs), PJ McCloskey, E Bradley (1f) 0-3 each, M Lynch, R Bell (1 '45') 0-2 each, L Kennedy 0-1.
Tyrone – N Morgan; D Carlin, C Gormley, B Tierney; R McKenna, J McMahon, D McBride; C Clarke, S Cavanagh; K Gallagher, Mark Donnelly, Mattie Donnelly; M Penrose, S O'Neill, J Lafferty. Subs: T McCann for McMahon (20), P Harte for Lafferty (47), D McCurry for Mark Donnelly (47), P Kane for Clarke (60), C McAliskey for McBride (65).
Derry – E McNicholl; R Ferris, D McBride, C Mullan; C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; P Bradley, PJ McCloskey; B McGoldrick, R Bell, R Wilkinson; E Bradley, L Kennedy, J Kielt. Subs: C Devlin for Kennedy (48), D Browne for Ferris (52), D Mullan for P Bradley (60).
Ref – M McNally (Monaghan).