Peter Harte penalty crucial as Tyrone eke out victory over Meath
TYRONE 1-10 MEATH 0-11
THE experience of Tyrone's seasoned campaigners, coupled with the contribution of several second half subs, helped them to dig out a two-point victory in the face of adversity in Omagh this afternoon.
When a wind-backed Meath edged two points clear soon after half-time, the qualifier prospects of Mickey Harte's erstwhile 'back door' specialists looked in grave peril.
They didn't score for the first 13 minutes of that period, but then a mis-hit 20m free from Conor McAliskey - tipped over by a defender - appeared to reignite the Red Hand.
All-Ireland veterans Seán Cavanagh and Joe McMahon, along with Peter Harte and buzzing replacements Tiernan McCann and Darren McCurry, were all to the fore as Tyrone started running at the heart of Meath's defence.
They were still a point adrift when McCann was brought down after a driving incursion for a 53rd minute penalty, expertly dispatched by Harte, to establish a lead they would never relinquish.
Graham and Kevin Reilly, the latter off the bench, battled manfully to keep the Royals within reach, each clipping a brace from play in an end-to-end final quarter.
Yet Tyrone kept chipping away at the far end, and Meath's best chance of extra-time came and went in the 68th minute when Joey Wallace - with an opportunity to equalise - pulled his goal chance wide.
In stark contrast to an entertaining second period, the first half was paint-drying stuff. The slippery conditions scarcely helped, but that was no excuse for the drudgery of that opening 35 minutes at Healy Park.
Seán Cavanagh did his best to lift the gloom with the first two points from play. The first came in the ninth minute after a slick passing move culminated in the 2008 Footballer of the Year clipping over with his left; the second, nine minutes later, stemmed from a poor Meath kickout and ended with Ronan McNabb passing to the totally unmarked Cavanagh.
Both sides set up in defensive mode, sometimes dragging all 15 men into their own half; both sides struggled to find a way through the wall of bodies.
But Tyrone would have felt particularly aggrieved at the failure to make the most of the elements, with McAliskey the most guilty party with four of their six first half wides.
The hosts almost paid for this when Stephen Bray and Bryan Menton combined to set up Mickey Newman for a rare goal chance after 27 minutes, but his low left-footed effort was saved with his feet by Niall Morgan.
Tyrone's reprieve was shortlived as Meath, who had looked bereft of confidence early on, suddenly exploded into scoring life.
They had failed to trouble the scoreboard for the first 28 minutes … then, in the next two surreal minutes, they hit a hat-trick of points from wandering back Donncha Tobin, Graham Reilly and a Newman free. Newman and Mark Bradley then swapped frees to leave the visitors ahead, 0-4 to 0-3, at the midpoint.
Now with the wind, Meath looked poised to push on when Brian McMahon doubled their lead three minutes after the resumption. But eventually Tyrone, staring into the precipice, started to turn the screw.
SCORERS - Tyrone: P Harte 1-1 (1-0 pen), M Bradley 0-3 (1f), S Cavanagh 0-2, R McNabb, C McAliskey (f), T McCann, P McCurry 0-1 each. Meath: G Reilly 0-3, M Newman (2f), K Reilly 0-2 each, D Tobin, D Keogan, B McMahon, B Menton 0-1 each.
TYRONE: N Morgan; R McNabb, R McNamee, C McCarron; R Brennan, Joe McMahon, A McCrory; P Harte, C Cavanagh; R Donnelly, B Tierney, M Donnelly; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey. Subs: T McCann for Donnelly (ht), D McCurry for Tierney (ht), C McCann for Brennan (43), R O'Neill for McAliskey (62), C McShane for Bradley (71).
MEATH: C McHugh; D Keogan, C McGill, J McEntee; D Dalton, D Tobin, P Harnan; B Menton, H Rooney; G Reilly, S Bray, A Tormey; E Wallace, M Newman, B McMahon. Subs: D Lenihan for Wallace (inj 13), K Reilly for Newman (56), S Tobin for Bray (63), J Wallace for McMahon (64), M Burke for McEntee (66), B Power for Dalton (70).
REF: C Branagan (Down).