Cavanagh's fist floors Kerry
Something reconnected in Omagh on Saturday night. As the Tyrone players warmed down in the middle of Healy Park, a couple of thousand hugged the seats and isles around the tunnel beneath the stand waiting to show their appreciation.
Tyrone had been oscillating between moderate and poor in their five previous league games, sometimes a little detached, sometimes a little dispirited. As the clock ticked into added time their proud Division 1 record during the management term of Mickey Harte was in serious peril given the way results were panning out elsewhere.
With 'head-to-head' results counting if two teams are tied at the conclusion of the group stages Tyrone couldn't afford to find themselves isolated with Monaghan as score difference, the normal determination in these situations, wouldn't count.
So Colm Cavanagh's goal right at the death of a needling match that was always simmering, but never managed to boil over, was important in many ways.
You got the sense that something in Tyrone's season turned in that instant and the crowd on the stand certainly felt that too.
Call it a mugging, call it a great escape, but that ignores a couple of points. Tyrone played most of the second half with 14 men after Cathal McCarron's second yellow card for a second foul against Colm Cooper. Only Aidan O'Mahony's ridiculous high challenge around Conor Gormley's neck that merited a straight red six minutes from time balanced the books.
And they never threw in the towel, always pressing, always probing against a Kerry side that, in Jack O'Connor's admission, "invited" them on much too early. They may have got what their persistence merited.
In the build up to Cavanagh's late goal David Moran had to parry Joe McMahon's punched effort away. It almost crept out over the line and in that scenario referee Padraig Hughes would surely have called full-time, sending Kerry back home with a cherished second successive win in Omagh.
But the ball recycled off Moran into Brian McGuigan's hands and he floated another inviting delivery into the Kerry goalmouth which came off a forest of arms, allowing the alert Cavanagh to react quickest with his fist and send the home crowd into raptures of delight. There was time for no more.
"A cruel way to lose a game," admitted O'Connor, whose demeanour afterwards spoke more than words. He knew they should have defended better but the removal of the square-ball infringement makes these moments more of a possibility.
"The margins are pretty fine, David Moran fly kicked a ball away there with about five seconds to go and if it reached the sideline I'd say the game is over.
"We probably invited them on to us a bit more in the end because we just weren't killing the ball up the other end and they were counter attacking pretty well. A hard one to take because maybe we deserved something out of the game."
Had the younger Cavanagh not delivered the coup de grace, Harte could still have drawn a lot from the performance, more than anything else this season perhaps.
"A great escape? Yes you can say that because of the way it ended, but the escape didn't happen with the last shot, it happened when we dug in a man down and then going a goal down almost at the same time," said Harte.
"It asked a lot of questions of our players and the fact that they gave that extra effort and energy over that period of time when they were down a man."
Sean Cavanagh, on his first start of the season, was influential in almost everything while Philip Jordan's return for the second half to tie down David Moran was also pleasing, as was the cut and thrust of Martin Penrose in attack. Colm Cavanagh is at last making tangible progress.
Kerry probably had the better spells of football but over less sustained spells and they were the more negative side in a game that produced some 61 frees. This wasn't what you would come to expect from two of the best three teams in the country. Or maybe it is.
Whether by accident or design Kerry channeled more players back behind the ball to protect their lead instead of striving on for more. It didn't suit them and ultimately it didn't work.
Hughes issued two red cards (one each) and 12 yellows (eight for Kerry), few of which could be argued with. In fact more were lucky not to follow including Declan O'Sullivan while O'Mahony was walking a fine line before he picked up his straight red.
"The referee was under pressure at that time to send somebody off to even things up so I'd have no big qualms about that," said O'Connor of his centre-back's dismissal. Privately he might say something different.
Kerry didn't really start sparking until Darran O'Sullivan's arrival for Kieran O'Leary 20 minutes in. His pace troubled Tyrone and they hit a groove in the five minutes before the break to turn a 0-6 to 0-3 deficit into a 0-7 to 0-6 lead with Donnacha Walsh, Kieran Donaghy, Moran and Cooper points. It was an impressive spell.
On the restart McCarron saw red for dragging down Cooper who nailed the subsequent free and was then the fulcrum in a one-two with Declan O'Sullivan, reminiscent of an early goal against Mayo in the '06 All-Ireland final after O'Sullivan had plundered Peter Harte further outfield and charged in.
That was 1-5 without reply for Kerry in 10 minutes from a 1-8 to 0-6 lead but from then on Tyrone had the edge, hitting Kerry on the counter.
The yellow cards totted up as Kerry sought to break home momentum and when Mulligan missed a close- range free in injury-time to narrow the gap to just one point we felt their chance was gone.
They didn't however and ironically Mulligan's miss gave them the scent of goal.
O'Connor was still able to draw positives from the night. They've lost four from six now in the league but he feels he knows more about his team than 12 months ago when they were cruising at the same stage.
"It has certainly helped to shape our team. I think we have a better idea going into the championship than we had last year when we cruised through the league. Maybe there is positives in that," said O'Connor.
"I thought a lot of fellas upped their performance tonight. A few fellas need to get a bit fitter. It's a long way to come and go away empty handed but sure that's sport."
Scorers -- Tyrone: M Penrose 0-4 (0-3f), C Cavanagh 1-0, S Cavanagh, O Mulligan (0-1f), T McGuigan (0-1f) 0-2 each, K Coney 0-1. Kerry: Declan O'Sullivan 1-0, D Moran (0-1f) 0-3, Darran O'Sullivan, C Cooper (0-1f), D Walsh 0-2 each, K Donaghy 0-1.
Tyrone -- P McConnell; D Carlin, J McMahon, C McCarron; D Harte, C Gormley, R McMenamin; A Cassidy, C Cavanagh; K Coney, S Cavanagh, P Harte; T McGuigan, M Penrose, O Mulligan. Subs: P Jordan for McMenamin (ht), B McGuigan for T McGuigan (54), S O'Neill for Coney (59).
Kerry -- B Kealy; P Reidy, T Griffin, T O'Sullivan; M O Se, A O'Mahony, K Young; S Scanlon, A Maher; K O'Leary, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, D Moran. Subs: Darran O'Sullivan for O'Leary (21), D O'Callaghan for Walsh (48), B Sheehan for Maher (54), A O'Connell for Reidy (63).
Ref -- Padraig Hughes (Armagh).