Harte delight as Tyrone ease closer to last eight
TYRONE 2-13, ARMAGH 0-13
ALL-IRELAND SFC QUALIFIER
WHISPER it folks...they haven't gone away, you know.
Like the thieves who slip in a side window when you've nailed down all your doors, Tyrone quietly moved one step away from the All-Ireland quarter-finals on Saturday night when most people had their binoculars firmly trained on Croker.
This third-round qualifier in Omagh was understandably billed the 'alternative Ulster final,' between the province's recent 'big two,' but, in truth, only Tyrone evoked memories of past glories.
Quite how testing a barometer Armagh were remains to be seen, but make no mistake, Tyrone have recovered well since the Donegal game.
Even without Stephen O'Neill, the hallmarks of the running game and 'collective' dedication that brought them three All-Irelands in six years were ominously visible.
After maintaining an impressive 13:2 qualifier record, Mickey Harte played it down, but his satisfied demeanour spoke volumes.
"It's early days yet, but it's good to be within touching distance of the last eight and that's where we find ourselves," he said. "We're a week behind everyone else and we have to deal with Roscommon now if we want to get there, but whichever method is required, winning your provincial final or the qualifiers, I don't mind."
He immediately talked up Roscommon, pointing out that they had been "just one kick of a ball" away from beating Mayo, but Fergal O'Donnell will be studying this showreel with some trepidation.
Were Tyrone perfect? No.
They started unusually slowly in front of the big home crowd and trailed by 0-6 to 0-3 after 30 minutes. But they had already wasted numerous goal chances before they cut loose with a 1-4 blitz in the final six minutes before half-time to go in four points up, 1-7 to 0-6.
That trend was then repeated.
Their short kick-outs backfired and Armagh had cut the deficit back to just a point within three minutes of restart.
But then Tyrone's running game carved their defence open repeatedly and an inevitable second goal came after 47 minutes when Peter Harte put Tommy McGuigan through for the coup de grace.
Armagh fans wondered if the unlikely scorer of Tyrone's first goal -- full-back Joe McMahon -- wasn't loitering in the square when he palmed to the net after Harte had pounced on a Paul Hearty blunder after 36 minutes.
They'll also point out that Steven McDonnell uncharacteristically blasted a penalty over the bar after 62 minutes. But Tyrone looked a different class. They created a full 10 goal chances -- six of them in the first half -- and only their own profligacy caused them to falter.
Harte was still happy that they created so many chances, quipping "as someone said: 'You miss 100pc of the shots you don't take'."
He's taken stick for being too loyal to his veterans and some of Tyrone's newer names are certainly now thriving. Mark Donnelly was outstanding, scoring 0-3 and pulling Brendan Donaghy well away from goal.
Harte's nephew Peter (20), one of the 2008 minors, excelled for the second week in-a-row, causing havoc with his runs and selfless passing.
Such work-rate is bringing out the best in the McGuigans again and, at full-back, McMahon showed why his loss against Donegal was pivotal.
Conor Gormley kept wonderkid Jamie Clarke scoreless, though the Cross' star got in a great instinctive flick early on to force a great save from goalkeeper Pascal McConnell.
And, despite conceding two first-half points, Martin Swift vitally smothered out the influence of Michael O'Rourke.
Harte took off Ryan McMenamin when he got booked for a silly contretemps with Sean Cavanagh and by the game's end he had introduced Martin Penrose, Brian Dooher and Justin McMahon, but Owen Mulligan -- who left and then returned to the squad recently -- was left on the bench.
Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke didn't reveal his team beforehand (not even to the stadium announcer), but all the rumoured changes transpired. Ciaran McKeever came in at centre-back, Kieran Toner in midfield and Billy Joe Padden up front, where he alternated with McDonnell in a two-man full-forward line. But no amount of cloak and daggers, or in-game switches could help their cause.
When asked about his future, O'Rourke said: "There'll be no rash decisions. I'll do whatever is best for Armagh and if they (the board) feel a change is best, then that'll be fine by me. If they feel I'm the right person to carry on, then I'd imagine, when the dust settles, I'll be willing to do that."
Scorers -- Tyrone: T McGuigan 1-1, P Harte 0-4 (3f), Joe McMahon 1-0, M Donnelly 0-3, M Swift, Sean O'Neill, B McGuigan, K Coney S Cavanagh (1f) 0-1 each. Armagh: S McDonnell 0-8 (5f, 1 pen), M O'Rourke 0-2, M Mackin, BJ Padden, A Kernan (1f) 0-1 each.
Tyrone -- P McConnell 7; M Swift 7, Joe McMahon 9, R McMenamin 6; Sean O'Neill 7, C Gormley 8, P Jordan 6; K Hughes 7, S Cavanagh 8; C Cavanagh 6, B McGuigan 8, P Harte 9; T McGuigan 8, M Donnelly 8, K Coney 6. Subs: Justin McNulty 7 for McMenamin (34), B Dooher 7 for T McGuigan (57), M Penrose 6 for Coney (57), E McGinley 6 for C Cavanagh (62), D Harte for O'Neill (65).
Armagh -- P Hearty 6 ; A Mallon 6, B Donaghy 5, F Moriarty 7; A Kernan 6, C McKeever 6, P Duffy 5; J Lavery 5, K Toner 6; C Vernon 7, BJ Padden 6, M Mackin 8; M O'Rourke 7, S McDonnell 8, J Clarke 6. Subs: T Kernan 7 for Lavery (44), D McKenna 6 for Duffy (51), B Mallon 6 for Padden (57), G McParland 7 for O'Rourke (59), J Hanratty 6 for Vernon (63).
REF -- M Duffy (Sligo).