Harte delight as Tyrone make strong start
Tyrone 1-11 Down 1-8
Mickey Harte summed up Tyrone's tempestuous opening league victory as: "Welcome to Division 1."
After coasting through the Dr McKenna Cup without breaking sweat, Tyrone were given a stark reality check on the rigours of life in the top division against a pumped-up Down team at Pairc Esler.
It got hot and heavy during an explosive second half, both on the pitch and on the sideline.
Joe McMahon was dismissed for a second yellow card in the 56th minute when the scores were tied at 1-8 apiece and it spurred on Tyrone, who bagged the last three points, before Conor Laverty was sent off in the last minute for Down, also for two bookings.
The performance of Derry referee Barry Cassidy was the main talking point afterwards, as inconsistent decisions had undoubtedly raised tensions in both camps.
But it also took Tyrone a long time to match Down's intensity – the Mournemen were by far the better team in the first half and should have led by more than 0-7 to 0-5 half-time lead.
"Down have been in Division 1 for a couple of years, whereas we weren't there," said Harte. They were probably watching us in the McKenna Cup thinking: 'We can turn the heat up on these men' and they did that in the first half. We were under serious pressure. It was 'welcome to Division 1' in the first half anyway."
When asked if he felt his younger players had stood up to the test, Harte replied: "I am very happy with them."
Both managers were deeply unhappy with the ref, who was the main character in the second half as an ugly undercurrent developed.
However, James McCartan played down the sideline jostles. "It's a passionate game and feelings run high. At the end of the day, when it's all over, you shake hands and you move on."
Down spurned a number of goal chances in the first half. Stephen O'Neill also hit the post for Tyrone, who struggled to compete with the sharp movement of Down's forwards.
Conor McAlliskey's brace from play and goalkeeper Niall Morgan's long-range kicks kept Tyrone in touch.
The game sprang to life when Mark Donnelly and then Donal O'Hare both scored goals in the 51st minute.
Tyrone sub Conor Clarke kicked 0-2 in the second half and Cavanagh and O'Neill kicked late frees. Ronan O'Neill also came on in the closing stages after almost a year out with a cruciate injury.
Man of the Match: S O'Neill (Tyrone)
Scorers – Down: D O'Hare 1-3 (3f), B Coulter, R Mallon 0-2 each, C Harrison 0-1. Tyrone: S O'Neill 0-3 (1f), Mark Donnelly 1-0, C McAlliskey, C Clarke 0-2 each, N Morgan 0-2 (1f, 1 '45'), S Cavanagh 0-2, (2f).
DOWN – M Cunningham 8; D Turley 5, D McCartan 6, R Boyle 6; R Mallon 8, A Carr 7, B McArdle 7; K King 6, K McKernan 6; K Quinn 6, M Poland 6, B Coulter 7; C Laverty 5, C Harrison 8, D O'Hare 8. Subs: O Costello 6 for Turley (29), C Garvey 6 for Mallon (51), P McComiskey 6 for King (51), P Turley 6 for Quinn (58), R Kelly 6 for Poland (64).
TYRONE – N Morgan 8; A McCrory 7, C Gormley 7, C McCarron 6; R McKenna 6, Joe McMahon 6, R McNamee 5; Justin McMahon 7, S Cavanagh 7; K Gallagher 6, P Harte 7, Mattie Donnelly 6; C McAlliskey 8, S O'Neill 8, Mark Donnelly 7. Subs: C Clarke 8 for McNamee (30), M Penrose 7 for Gallagher (46), R O'Neill 6 for McAlliskey (60), P McNiece 6 for Mark Donnelly (70)
REF – B Cassidy (Derry).