Wednesday 18 October 2017

Tyrone bask in sunshine with O'Neill's brace

Tyrone 2-17 Down 0-15 Ulster SFC Final

Supersub Ronan O’Neill celebrates scoring the first of his two goals for Tyrone. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Supersub Ronan O’Neill celebrates scoring the first of his two goals for Tyrone. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It was close to an hour after the game had concluded when Mickey Harte finally reached the cool sanctuary of Tyrone's dressing-room, but you got the sense that he would have stayed all evening out on the St Tiernach's Park pitch.

These sunny July afternoons in Clones retain a special place for the game's longest-serving manager.

Maybe it's the familiar feel to it that he likes best, as he and his players mingled with their huge support among the 31,912 crowd.

This was a sixth Ulster title on his watch - the sun shone for each of the other five as well - and arguably the most comprehensive.

Their 2-17 against Down contributed to 3-60 for their three games in the province, which they won by a cumulative 28-point winning margin.

They've left everyone else trailing in their wake and, while they might argue differently, they have never been truly stretched or under pressure at any stage in the 210-plus minutes of action.

Down’s Niall Donnelly wins the high ball ahead of Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Down’s Niall Donnelly wins the high ball ahead of Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Criticism that they lack the necessary expansion in their game to take them further has receded under the weight of those numbers.

Complete

Are they ready to meet the rising road ahead of them? No doubt they are a more complete side than they were 12 months ago and have added a better attacking dimension to their game.

When they break now they commit more numbers at a higher pace and in Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte they have two of the best generals working in tandem.

Cathal McCarron under close scrutiny. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Cathal McCarron under close scrutiny. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Everything works through them and they have the balance and composure to bring others into play.

Pádraig Hampsey was one of those. He operated at the heart of a strong collaborative defence but got forward to pick off three points - the last may well have been a goal but for a smart save from Michael Cunningham - to add to the two he popped over against Donegal. The former All-Ireland U-21 winner is making quite a mark this season and is a source of that overall improvement.

They can go through the gears impressively as well. While Down retired at half-time with fleeting optimism after closing a 0-6 to 0-2 deficit after 22 minutes to two points, 0-7 to 0-5, Tyrone's response after the restart was emphatic.

When Conall McCann swung over from distance the gap was nine points, 0-14 to 0-5, and Down's mission was respectability - which they achieved.

Tyrone might, on reflection, be a little vexed with themselves for conceding too much ground to their opponents in that final quarter, but by then Harte was testing the strength of the bench, where Declan McClure and Ronan O'Neill, particularly, gave their future prospects a real shot in the arm.

Tiernan McCann and Peter Turley take a tumble after a challenge. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Tiernan McCann and Peter Turley take a tumble after a challenge. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

O'Neill has always been a mercurial talent since winning an All-Ireland minor title in 2010, but making his mark has been difficult.

Thrust into the action here for Mark Bradley on 53 minutes, he provided two superb finishes to find the net and complete some really impressive approach work. His pass for Mattie Donnelly's third point was also top drawer.

On 55 minutes McClure, who replaced the black-carded Kieran McGeary just before the break, caught a kick-out and played on quickly to send Donnelly through the middle.

Donnelly doesn't make too many mistakes in possession and his lay-off to O'Neill was perfectly weighted.

Down’s Michael Cunningham makes a save under the crossbar as Kevin McKernan restrains Tyrone’s Peter Harte during their Ulster SFC final in Clones. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Down’s Michael Cunningham makes a save under the crossbar as Kevin McKernan restrains Tyrone’s Peter Harte during their Ulster SFC final in Clones. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

The second goal, nine minutes later, was of even higher quality.

This time another substitute, Darren McCurry, was the supplier, His crossfield pass was read with precision by O'Neill, who was able to turn his tracker Darren O'Hagan and deftly chip the advancing Cunningham.

Cheeky, risky, but class nonetheless and the lead stretched to 11 points.

Sobering

For Down it was a sobering afternoon after their progress against Armagh and Monaghan in previous rounds.

They did well to rein in the champions in the second quarter and had a real opportunity to lead when Darragh O'Hanlon spurned a great chance from close range after Ryan Johnston had put him in.

Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan was quick to let him know the extent of his miss.

O'Hagan had set that move in motion at the other end and had a shot off an upright just before Johnston gathered, but it was the other Johnston, Jerome, who played the key role in the build-up.

It was one of many pacey runs through the middle he made, giving Down their best platform to attack and he was their most inventive and exciting player.

Caolan Mooney also came good with three fine points, while O'Hanlon and Conor Maginn were always probing.

However, they were well off the standard set by Tyrone and lost Kevin McKernan to a black card for something that happened off the ball in the 42nd minute.

One of their biggest issues was retaining their own kick-outs.

When Tyrone forced Michael Cunningham to go long they profited, winning 10 of the 31 he despatched. Critically, though, three of those came just after the restart, as Tyrone reasserted themselves with Sean Cavanagh (free), Bradley and Harte (free) pouncing for a 0-11 to 0-5 lead.

McClure's impact was evident in the next score, too, when yet another catch provided the opening for a Bradley point.

Tiernan McCann then made one of his trademark darts, turned back inside and curled over from 35 metres in a mirror image to a point he had scored against Donegal.

This was Tyrone at their best as the lead stretched to nine.

Cavanagh, making his 87th championship appearance, was taken off in the middle of that spell after struggling to make the same impact he made in his previous two games.

However, he too could really appreciate afterwards the warm glow of these Clones days as, like Harte, it was his sixth provincial success and Tyrone's 15th in all.

What has stood out about Tyrone in this Ulster Championship has been their discipline.

No yellow card the last day, just three this time (two for Cathal McCarron, who was sent off in the 70th minute) and a low number of frees for games of this nature. Their tackling has been crisp and efficient.

Their use of and possession from long kick-outs has also been a feature, with McClure the main beneficiary of the tactic.

Naturally, Harte was quickly focused on the challenges ahead, given how they didn't kick on against Mayo last year.

However, they look that bit more equipped to make the necessary advance this time.

Scorers - Tyrone: R O'Neill 2-0, M Donnelly, P Hamspey 0-3 each, S Cavanagh (f), M Bradley, P Harte (f) 0-2 each, T McCann, D Mulgrew, N Sludden, L Brennan, C McCann 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hanlon 0-4 (3fs), C Mooney 0-3, R Johnston 0-2, M Cunningham (f), N Donnelly, C Maginn, J Murphy, D McKibbin, S Millar all 0-1 each.

Tyrone: N Morgan 7; A McRory 7, R McNamee 8, C McCarron 7; T McCann 7, P Hampsey 8, P Harte 8; C Cavanagh 7, C McCann 7; D Mulgrew 7, N Sludden 7, K McGeary 5; M Bradley 7, S Cavanagh 6, M Donnelly 8; Subs: D McClure 8 for McGeary BC (39), D McCurry 7 for S Cavanagh (48), R O'Neill 8 for Bradley (53), C Meyler 6 for Mulgrew (54), C McShane 5 for C McCann (59), L Brennan for Sludden (61).

Down: M Cunningham 6; N McParland 6, G McGovern 7, D O'Hagan 6; D O'Hanlon 7, C McGovern 7, C Mooney 8; K McKernan 5, N Donnelly 6; P Turley 5, C Maginn 6, S Millar 5; J Johnston 6, C Harrison 6, R Johnston 8. Subs: J Murphy 7 for McKernan BC (42), D McKibbin 6 for Turley (46), D O'Hare 6 for J Johnston (49), M Poland 6 for Millar (56), A Carr 6 for Donnelly (59), S Dornan for Maginn (62). M Poland injured and not replaced.

Ref - J McQuillan (Cavan)

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