Red Hands hold off Kildare
TYRONE 1-11 KILDARE 0-12
A DIRE first-half performance left Kildare with a mountain to climb against Tyrone at Newbridge last night; a summit they ultimately could not scale.
An economical and astute Tyrone team led them by five points at the break and though Kildare came out with fire in their bellies, and hit five points on the trot, they could never do enough to leave their opponents trailing in their wake.
This result surely brings an end to Kieran McGeeney's six years at the helm. They have a young side to look to the future, and they have lacked good fortune at times, but the truth is they have just been a shade off the top six teams in the land.
Tactically, Tyrone got it spot-on last night, especially in the first half. And near the end they used all their clout to kill the game and pinch vital scores here and there.
They pulled the versatile Joe McMahon back in front of the towering Tomas O'Connor and let McMahon sweep from there, with Conor Clarke going toe to toe with the big Clane man and doing very well in spoiling any aerial rockets that came between them.
At the other end, Peter Kelly took Tyrone dangerman Stephen O'Neill and while it looked like Emmet Bolton was going to sweep for Kildare, that never happened. Instead, O'Neill and Darren McCurry were left in the full-forward line, with their 13 team-mates pulled back behind the half-way line. It was a shocking omission from Kildare not to pull another two men back on the Ulster duo because they caused havoc in the first 35 minutes.
Yet, while Tyrone looked to be better set up it was Johnny Doyle who started the game with one of the points of the century, his first of three in the opening period. He skinned Aidan McCrory by throwing a dummy and sent over a ridiculously good effort from deep in the right corner.
The game opened up quickly from there. With O'Neill and McCurry pulling out and making space, Matthew Donnelly surged forward and placed a quality strike to the right side of the net to put the visitors 1-3 to 0-2 ahead after 10 minutes.
The vocal home supporters in the 7,448 crowd started voicing their disapproval. Hugh McGrillen's long balls into O'Connor failed to come off and the frustration from the stands started to pour out.
With eight men spread across the Tyrone half-back line, Kildare owned lots of ball but failed to penetrate very often. And even though Tyrone were losing the majority of their own kick-outs, the home team looked extremely uncomfortable on the ball and shot nine wides in the opening half.
A shemozzle broke out on the cusp of half-time; O'Neill was held by Kildare full-back Peter Kelly, he hit back, Kelly went down and the crowd bayed for blood. O'Neill saw yellow, not red and referee Joe McQuillan was booed off the field as he went for his half-time break with the Ulster men leading 1-6 -0-4.
But Kildare started the second half like men possessed – they hit four quick points from Doyle (2 frees) Padraig O'Neill and Niall Kelly to reduce the gap to one. The atmosphere was electric.
Tyrone, losing the kick-out battle, took off Colm Cavanagh; his brother Sean hit a wide on the run and it was indicative of how momentum had swung. Minutes later Paul Cribbin levelled the scores and punched the air with joy – what a turnaround.
It veered wildly again when Mark Donnelly went on a jinking run, pierced Kildare's defence and was hauled down for a penalty. Up stepped O'Neill, whose goal-bound effort was superbly saved by Shane Connolly. Had we seen the match twist and turn one last time?
McCurry landed Tyrone's first score for 21 minutes with a pointed free and Doyle replied soon after. The scores dried up as the stakes went higher. At this crucial juncture, though, Tyrone started winning a few frees and Sean Cavanagh and Mark Donnelly edged their side two ahead once more with 10 minutes left.
Tyrone took the sting out of the game from here. They won a few frees, brought on another sub, and did what they had to. Kelly was sent off for a second yellow with seven minutes left; it was a harsh call and put the final nail in Kildare's coffin.
After a 15-man move, Peter Harte put Tyrone four points ahead and out of sight.
And so Mickey Harte's men march on. They're a long way off where they need to be but they're still in the race.
Scorers – Tyrone: Matthew Donnelly 1-1, D McCurry 0-3f, S Cavanagh 0-4 (3f), Mark Donnelly, M Penrose (f), P Harte 0-1 each. Kildare: J Doyle 0-6 (4f), N Kelly 0-2, P O'Neill, P Cribbin, E O'Flaherty, S Johnston 0-1 each.
Tyrone: P McConnell; A McRory, C Clarke, C McCarron; R McKenna, P Harte, C Gormley; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, J McMahon; D McCurry, S O'Neill, M Penrose. Subs: A Cassidy for C Cavanagh (42), D Carlin for B McKenna (52), K Coney for D McCurry (57), C McAliskey for S O'Neill (68), Justin McMahon for C McCarron (68).
Kildare: S Connolly; D Hyland, P Kelly, H McGrillen; E Callaghan, M O'Flaherty, E Bolton; D Flynn, P O'Neill; D Flynn, N Kelly, E O'Flaherty; J Doyle, T O'Connor, P Brophy. Subs: P Cribbin for D Flynn (19), S Hurley for E Callaghan (35), S Johnston for P O'Neill (55), A Smith for N Kelly (57), E Doyle for T O'Connor (65).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)