Harte looking to keep 'momentum'
PROMOTED counties often spend the first year in loftier company fretting over whether they will drop straight back down again but neither Tyrone nor Kildare have any such worries after escaping from Division 2 last season.
Tyrone knew as they left the pitch in Newbridge yesterday that they had qualified for the Division 1 semi-finals and, once results filtered in from other venues, it was clear that despite losing by six points, Kildare would join them in the last four.
It's all very satisfactory for both counties, who are in the happy position of knowing that their league ambitions are not in any way dependent on taking anything from their last-round clashes against Kerry (Tyrone) and Down (Kildare) on Sunday week.
Tyrone and Kildare will, however, have an input into whether Kerry or Down – or perhaps even both – are relegated. It would indeed be rich in irony if Tyrone were to despatch their great southern rivals to Division 2.
If Kerry were hoping that Tyrone's comfortable position might lower their motivation levels in the last game, they certainly won't be encouraged by Mickey Harte's comments after watching his side negotiate a largely trouble-free run through St Conleth's Park yesterday.
"We won't be thinking about what it does to Kerry, we will only be thinking what it does to us. We want to stay with a bit of momentum – that's what our aim will be," he said.
Tyrone have certainly built up huge momentum throughout this spring and increased it further on a cold, gloomy afternoon as they powered to a victory which was more comfortably achieved than the final result suggests.
They led by 1-8 to 0-3 at half-time and by 1-11 to 0-4 after 57 minutes before Kildare outscored them by 0-6 to 0-2 on the run-in. Kildare's late power surge featured three points from open play from Paul Cribbin who, together with his U-21 colleague Sean Hurley, made a significant impact off the bench.
Cribbin was especially impressive, using his 35 minutes of action to lodge a solid application for a starting place in the bigger tests ahead. Kieran McGeeney was impressed by Cribbin and Hurley, not least because they increase his options as he builds towards the championship.
"They were brilliant but it probably shows the way the modern game has gone. You need pace and you need a lot of it. Paul scored three points and he missed three that he should have got," said McGeeney.
However, despite the youngsters' influence, it was always unlikely that Kildare would overturn the eight-point interval deficit, a load which increased as they kicked a series of dreadful wides into the town goal in the second half.
Seven wides took the total for the game to 12 while they also dropped several shots into the arms of Niall Morgan who, as well as tending carefully to his goal-keeping duties, was Tyrone's joint top-scorer with three pointed frees.
He was fronted by a solid defensive unit where Cathal McCarron and Joe McMahon were leading figures; the Cavanagh brothers were efficient around midfield while central attackers Peter Harte and Stephen O'Neill posed tricky questions for the Kildare defence.
Harte also worked hard further back as Tyrone packed their defence when Kildare had possession and flooded forward once they managed to win the ball.
Unfortunately for Kildare, that was far too often as they regularly conceded possession through poor passing off hand and foot.
A mistake by Emmet Bolton – who did well otherwise – gifted Tyrone their goal in the eighth minute, a mistake which was punished by Mark Donnelly who beat Mark Donnellan at the second attempt after the Kildare 'keeper had made a good save.
With O'Neill angling cleverly across the full-forward zone, Tyrone always looked dangerous as they used the wind to help open up an interval lead of eight points.
"We would have been disappointed with the first half for not getting more scores and getting more shots off. The lads knuckled down well in the second half and basically owned the ball but we didn't take enough of our chances – it's something we'll have to work on," said McGeeney.
They will have at least two more games to do so, including a return to Croke Park for the league semi-finals, a target that looked beyond them at the start of the season.
"If someone had told me at the start of the year that we'd be sitting like this, I'd have taken his hand off," said McGeeney.
He was trading very much in positives but it must be frustrating to watch his team score only four points in the first 57 minutes, especially when their high workrate won them enough possession to return a far higher yield.
However, they made little progress against Tyrone's defensive wall until such time as the game had been long since decided and the visitors were living off their earlier deposits and looking ahead to other challenges.
"It is all good experience and it's also good to know our league campaign won't end on the seventh game. That will bring us closer to the championship and gives us a high level of competitive football that can only be good for the players," said Harte.
As for the Tyrone players – certainly the more experienced ones – they know the value of a good spring run while acknowledging that it comes with no guarantees for the summer.
"Championship is different but if you have a good league you tend to be in good shape for the championship," said Stephen O'Neill.
Five wins from six games is right on track with the seasons when Tyrone used the league so effectively as a progressive path towards the championship. It's going pretty well for Kildare too, even if they did misfire yesterday.
At least it didn't cost them as dearly as it might, thanks to their enterprise in previous outings.
Man of the Match: P Harte (Tyrone)
Scorers – Tyrone: S O'Neill (1f), N Morgan (3fs) 0-3 each, Mark Donnelly 1-0, C McAliskey (1f), P Harte (1f) 0-2 each, R McKenna, P McNiece, A Cassidy. Kildare: P Cribbin 0-3, S Johnston 0-2 (2fs), A Smith, R Sweeney, E Callaghan, E O'Flaherty, S Hurley 0-1 each.
Tyrone – N Morgan 8; A McCrory 7, C Clarke 6, C McCarron 8; R McKenna 7, J McMahon 8, R McNamee 7; C Cavanagh 6, S Cavanagh 7; P McNiece 6, P Harte 8, Matthew Donnelly 6; C McAliskey 7, S O'Neill 7, Mark Donnelly 6. Subs: P Kane 6 for Matthew Donnelly (h-t), D McBride 6 for Clarke (h-t), M Penrose 5 for Mark Donnelly (50), A Cassidy 6 for C Cavanagh (63),D McCurry for O'Neill (69).
Kildare – M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 7, M Foley 6, H McGrillen 7; E Bolton 7, P Kelly 7, E Doyle 6; H Lynch 5, P O'Neill 6; E O'Flaherty 6, E Callaghan 6, M O'Flaherty 5; A Smith 6, R Sweeney 5, S Johnston 6. Subs: S Hurley 7 for Lynch (26), P Cribbin 8 for M O'Flaherty (ht), T O'Connor 6 for Sweeney (ht), R Kelly 6 for Johnston (58).
Ref – M Duffy (Sligo)