Monday 27 March 2017

Harte's old Hands see off Canavan

Tyrone's Owen Mulligan in action against Fermanagh's John Woods during their Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at the Morgan Athletic Grounds
Tyrone's Owen Mulligan in action against Fermanagh's John Woods during their Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at the Morgan Athletic Grounds

SECONDS out, round two and the result was still the same.

The master got one over on his pupil yet again in this Power NI McKenna Cup semi-final at Armagh yesterday.

This swift re-match between Mickey Harte and Peter Canavan understandably attracted another healthy early-season crowd (8,806), and though the final result looked pretty conclusive, rookie manager Canavan actually wasn't too downhearted. Unlike their meeting of five days earlier, his Division 4 Fermanagh side started much more brightly, causing a bit of a frisson by holding their vaunted opponents to just three first-half points and leading by two (1-2 to 0-3) at the break.

But when they returned to the field without forward fulcrum Seamus Quigley, you immediately sensed they would struggle.

Quigley doesn't have the greyhound girth that is the template for the modern inter-county footballer.

But, after scoring 0-5 from the bench mid-week to take his three-game tally to 2-21, he was back among the starters again yesterday and quickly added to his growing cult status.

After 23 minutes he soared into the air to punch home a goal off a well-floated line-ball from younger brother Sean to give Fermanagh a shock four-point lead.

Just three minutes later, when his older brother -- wing-back Conor -- found him with a brilliant pass, the burly Roslea forward, with a quicksilver flick of his wrist, put Sean through on goal again, only to be denied by a good Pascal McConnell save.

It was the deftest, most intelligent of flicks, a move that only the most innate striker would anticipate -- never mind deliver -- and it drew gasps of admiration from the crowd.

Had a goal ensued Tyrone would have gone in trailing by a lot more and who knows how things might have transpired.

But Quigley had noticeably needed treatment for an injury just six minutes after the throw-in and it was no coincidence that, stripped of their big target-man, their encouraging counter-attacking game, initiated by their half-backs, then collapsed and they scored only twice in the second-half.

"He strained his hamstring early on and we took him off at half-time as a precaution," Canavan explained.

"Seamie is central to this team and he's a great finisher. We missed that element of his play in the second half," he conceded, admitting that his loss had forced Fermanagh to change their game plan.

But the former Tyrone star also admitted that his side also simply ran out of steam and their fitness levels still need attention.

Even before Quigley had departed there were signs that Tyrone weren't going to lie down and as Fermanagh ran out of puff and started making errors, the Red Hand took a firm grip on things.

Given the clamour for Mickey Harte to give youth its head, it was ironic that their comeback came as a result of the introduction of some of their more seasoned performers.

They were very experimental upfront yesterday, holding the likes of Stephen O'Neill, Martin Penrose and Joe McMahon in reserve.

They trailed by three when Patrick McNiece, who had already kicked three of six wides, was replaced by Penrose and the minute he arrived Tyrone found new impetus, with Owen Mulligan getting their third score quickly afterwards.

Canavan described Penrose afterwards as "one of the best tacklers in the country" and he did the job of several men.

Within four minutes of the re-start Tyrone had scored three unanswered points to take the lead and one came from Penrose.

They were two points clear when Stephen O'Neill arrived, to a big cheer, after 55 minutes.

Within a minute the Fermanagh net was shaking after Penrose found Mulligan with a great outlet pass and 'Mugsy' threw a trademark dummy and scored a solo goal not unlike his great 2005 Croke Park showstopper.

After that, it was game over as Tyrone romped to their third McKenna Cup final in-a-row, a repeat-pairing of last year's decider against Derry, which takes place in Armagh next Saturday (7.30).

Fermanagh's Conor Quigley, Thomas Corrigan and Kane Connor battled manfully but a Paul Ward free was their only subsequent score as Tyrone found their rhythm and ran at them in waves.

Mark Donnelly got 'Man of the Match' but 19-year-old UUJ student Ronan O'Neill caught the eye, finishing with 1-4 (2f) from corner-forward, his 68th minute goal laid on by Stephen O'Neill.

"In the first half there wasn't anyone making serious breaks, there was no urgency there and that suited Fermanagh, they contained us," manager Mickey Harte said.

"The introduction of Martin (Penrose) was significant, his speed threatens the opposition," he said.

And he had special praise for young O'Neill.

"It was big of him to manage the first half because things weren't going his way, the supply wasn't great and he had to hang in there.

"To have the confidence to believe in himself, to hack away after that, it tells you about the quality of player he can become," he added.

Significant praise from a man who has led Tyrone to McKenna Cup finals in all but two of his years in charge.

Scorers -- Tyrone: R O'Neill 1-4 (2f), O Mulligan 1-1, M Murphy, K Coney (2f) 0-2 each, C Gervin, M Donnelly, M Penrose 0-1 each. Fermanagh: Seamus Quigley 1-0, C Quigley, Sean Quigley and J Sherry, P Ward (1f) 0-1 each.

Tyrone -- P McConnell; A McCrory, C Clarke, PJ Quinn; C McCarron, P Harte, J McMahon; N McKenna, C Cavanagh; C Gervin, K Coney, P McNiece; O Mulligan, M Donnelly, R O'Neill. Subs : M Penrose for McNeice (33), Joe McMahon for Gervin (46), Sean O'Neill for Justin McMahon (51), Stephen O'Neill for Coney (55), M Murphy for McKenna (64).

Fermanagh -- C Snow; N Bogue, B Owens, J Woods; C Quigley, R McCluskey, B Mulrone; E Donnelly, P Cosgrove; J Sherry, K Connor, D Keenan; Seamus Quigley, Sean Quigley, B Og McGuire. Subs: M Little for Cosgrove, P Ward for Seamus Quigley, T Corrigan for B Maguire (h-t), D Kelly for Mulrone (52), L Lynch for Connor (64).

Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan).

Irish Independent

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