Wednesday 22 November 2017

Red Hands repel late Cork blitz to triumph

Tyrone's players celebrate after their thrilling victory over Cork in the ESB All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final.
Tyrone's players celebrate after their thrilling victory over Cork in the ESB All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final.
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

THREE times this summer the Cork minors had nicked victory by a point yet, despite making another of their trademark sensational comebacks, they found themselves on the wrong side of that heartbreaking margin in the game that mattered most.

After holding eight-point leads in both halves, Tyrone's battling band of senior lookalikes just about held on to win their eighth minor title and their second in three years.

But they were clinging on by their fingertips at the end and were certainly grateful that referee Michael Duffy called a vital free against Cork for handling on the ground in the dying seconds.

Cork had all the momentum at that stage and their brilliant leader Dan McEoin had just reduced the deficit to a single point for a second time.


It was a big call by Duffy but the Sligo referee was extremely strict and consistent throughout.

That free was enough to run the clock down and send the Red Hand youngsters celebrating what was, ominously, the county's fifth minor title in 13 years.

But they certainly had to earn it the hard way after Cork's famous 'comeback kids' came roaring back at them in the final quarter, scoring an unanswered 1-4 in four minutes to decimate Tyrone's eight-point lead with just three minutes of normal time remaining.

Twelve minutes into the second half, Cork were trailing 1-12 to 0-7 but the Rebel comeback took full flight in the 55th minute when Luke Connolly sent in a long ball and Brian Hurley laid it off brilliantly to Kevin Hallissey, who scored a cracking goal.

It was only the second goal that Tyrone had conceded all summer and the first since last May and it clearly unsettled them.

Suddenly Cork, led brilliantly by corner-forward McEoin and some astute substitutions, were swarming all over them to produce a nail-biting finish worthy of the final.

Once Cork substitutes Stephen O'Mahony and Luke Connolly starting raining in long balls into the Tyrone square, the game turned on its head.

The Ulster boys had packed their defence with spare men and it was only when Cork abandoned their running game and started sending in the long bombs that they penetrated it.

Hallissey's goal and two points apiece from play from McEoin and John O'Rourke quickly reduced the gap to a point and the Cork supporters began to find their voice.

Yet Tyrone held their composure and almost got in for a goal at the other end, when Liam Girvan and Ronan O'Neill combined to put Harry Og Conlon through.

His shot was brilliantly smothered by Cork 'keeper David Hanrahan but O'Neill was on hand to pop the rebound over. That 60th-minute point was Tyrone's first score in 13 minutes but it extended their lead to two again and gave them the breathing space they so badly needed.

Cork were unlucky to lose O'Rourke to injury in those dying minutes but the wide tally (9-2, with Tyrone kicking only one in both halves) indicated that the Ulster boys took their chances better throughout.

That final quarter was certainly in stark contrast to what went before because Tyrone really had looked home and dry.

Wing-back Niall Sludden opened their scoring in the fifth minute and they had raced into an eight-point lead before excellent free-taker Hurley got Cork's first score in the 21st minute.

Conlon bagged the Tyrone goal in the 19th minute, scoring on the follow-up despite initially forcing a great save out of Hanrahan.

That left Cork eight points down (1-5 to 0-0) but, having seen them make several miracle comebacks this summer, including recovering from nine down in their semi-final, it was no surprise that they racked up five unanswered points to go in just four down (1-6 to 0-5) at half-time.

All of Tyrone's half-backs had scored from play by half-time, but that was no surprise considering the way their defenders had to break forward to add weight to a retreating half-forward line.

Corner-forward Stefan Tierney operated as a tireless spare defender throughout but John McCullagh's brilliance at full-forward (0-4 from play) made up for their lack of numbers up front and Tyrone's midfield partnership of Conlon and the excellent Conan Grugan was also vital to their victory.

Scorers -- Tyrone: J McCullagh 0-4, H Og Conlon 1-0, R O'Neill (0-1f), C Grugan 0-2 each, N Sludden, M Donaghy,T Canavan (0-1f) E Deeney, R Devlin 0-1 each. Cork: D McEoin 0-5, K Hallissey 1-1, B Hurley (0-3f), J O'Rourke 0-3 each.

Tyrone -- C Spiers 8; S McGarrity 7, C Clarke 9, HP McGeary 6; N Sludden 7, M Donaghy 7, E Deeney 7; H Og Conlon 8, C Crugan 8; R Donnelly 7, T Canavan 6, R Devlin 7; S Tierney 8, J McCullagh 9, R O'Neill 7. Subs: P McNulty 7 for Donaghy (40), L Girvan 8 for R Donnelly (48), D Donnelly 6 for Tierney (54).

Cork -- D Hanrahan 9; K Fulignati 7, M O'Shea 8, A Cronin 6; C O'Sullivan 6, T Clancy 7, J Wall 7; J Burns 6, D Cahalane 7; J O'Rourke 8, M Sugrue 6, D McEoin 9; K Hallissey 8, T Hegarty 7, B Hurley 8. Subs: D Fitzgerald 7 for Hegarty (31), L Connolly 8 for Sugrue (43), D O'Donovan 7 for Fulignati (44), S O'Mahony 8 for O'Sullivan (48), K Sheehan for O'Rourke (61).

Ref -- M Duffy (Sligo).

Irish Independent

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