O'Neill's strike clinches title for Tyrone
Tyrone 1-17 Cavan 0-15
Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30
Mickey Harte wasn't long into his post-match analysis when talk turned to the Ulster Championship and Derry in Celtic Park in a few weeks time.
Division 2 titles are fine, but this league win would, he said, be framed by what happens there on May 22.
However, he could only have been pleased by what his side had done in the previous 70 minutes.
The Breffni men led by 0-2 to 0-1 on four minutes but they never got their noses in front after that. Tyrone controlled large periods and saw out the game in relative comfort.
In the process, they stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to 13 games to set themselves up nicely for a tilt at Derry and perhaps a sustained run in the Ulster championship.
They got some strong showings from key men. Sean Cavanagh roamed to good effect and finished with three points. Ronan O'Neill and Conor McAlliskey were the game breakers, finishing with 1-8 between them, 1-7 of which came from play.
At the back they kept a previously rampant Cavan attack to just 15 points, their joint second lowest tally of the campaign.
Ronan O'Neill's second half goal will go down as the turning point, but this game didn't hinge on one moment. The two teams were playing a similar game but Cavan boss Terry Hyland admitted his team had been bested. Tyrone are the team that Cavan hope to be a little down the line.
To their credit, Cavan kept looking for ways to get back in the game. Even when O'Neill lashed home after Mattie Donnelly's excellent pass while under pressure near the end line, they found a response.
Hyland's men enjoyed their best period of the game after the goal.
They ran off three successive points to get back to within a score of the Red Hand, but perhaps they should have harvested more from that purple patch.
One of their best moves of the game gave David Givney a sight of goal but his rocket of a shot went narrowly over. And with it went Cavan's hopes.
Heading into the final 10 minutes, Tyrone enjoyed a four-point cushion - a gap that Cavan didn't look like making up against a side streetwise when it comes to seeing a game out. Harte's men are not big on giving out second chances.
"It was a bit like tennis in one sense, whoever was serving - when we had the ball Tyrone were dropping back, and vice-versa," Hyland said.
"The pattern of the game caused that more than anything else. I think that maybe we didn't push enough up when they dropped back and maybe we did that more in the second half.
"That's probably been their game plan for a long number of years, they haven't changed it for seven, eight, nine years so they're probably more adept at doing that and their players are more used to coming into the system," he continued.
"From a positive point of view we had a lot of young players out there today, their first time at Croke Park and I thought some of them acquitted themselves quite well," said Hyland.
Cavan had caught the eye for their big tallies since finding their form midway through the league, but they found Tyrone a much more difficult lock to pick.
Much of Tyrone's success was built on the way they forced key men like Givney and captain Gearoid McKiernan to the periphery of the game for long periods.
Seanie Johnston got no joy off Cathal McCarron either and was withdrawn early in the second half with just a point to his name.
Cavan had been close for long periods of the first half.
The sides were tied at 0-7 each with 10 minutes to the short whistle but they were outscored by four points to one in that period as the Red Hand took a 0-11 to 0-8 lead.
"We battled hard but we made mistakes and that's ultimately what cost us," Hyland said.
"In transition we gave away three or four scores. Look it gives us something to work on but we're probably a little bit disappointed we weren't closer in the end.
"We battled and we kept trying to get back into the game. In fairness Tyrone were the better team on the day so we can't take away from that and we have to go away and learn from the mistakes we made today.
"We made mistakes and we did some good things and we'll work on the positives and the negatives twice as hard."
Hyland's thoughts had already turned to their Ulster Championship date with Armagh at Kingspan Breffni Park on May 29.
"Armagh will be different, Armagh had a good finish to their league, they were probably unfortunate to be relegated, bu8t they took something out of the last three league games.
"I know we had a bit of a run away against them (in the league) but I don't think that's going to happen the next time," he added.
SCORERS - Tyrone: R O'Neill 1-3 (1f), C McAlliskey 0-5, S Cavanagh 0-3, M Donnelly 0-2, R Brennan, T McCann, M Bradley (1f), P Harte 0-1 each. Cavan: G McKiernan 0-3 (1f), D McVeety 0-2, R Galligan (1 '45), J McLoughlin, L Buchanan, T Corr, M Argue, S Johnston (1f), D Givney, E Keating, C Moynagh, M Reilly 0-1 each. Tyrone: M O'Neill 8; R McNamee 7, Justin McMahon 7, C McCarron 8; R Brennan 6, A McCrory 7, T McCann 7; C Cavanagh 8, M Donnelly 8; N Sudden 6, M Bradley 6, P Harte 8; R O'Neill 8, S Cavanagh 7, C McAlliskey 8. Subs: C Meyler 7 for Sludden (50), B Tierney 6 for McMahon (50), R Donnelly 6 for Bradley (56), L Brennan 6 for O'Neill (57), F Burns for McCarron (70).
Cavan: R Galligan 7; P Faulkner 7, K Clarke, J McLoughlin 7; C Brady 6, C Moynagh 7, K Brady 6; T Corr 7, L Buchanan 7; D McVeety 6, G McKiernan 7, M Reilly 6; D Givney 6, M Argue 7, S Johnston 5. Subs: N Murray 6 for K Brady (25), E Keating 7 for Johnston (46), C Mackey 7 for Buchanan (48), R Dunne 6 for Argue (53), F Flanagan 6 for C Brady (60), J Brady for Moynagh (66).
Ref - C Branagan (Down)