Harte tightens up to iron out chinks in Red Hands' armour
Tyrone 3-11 Down 0-12
THERE were some eerie similarities between the drawn game and this clash in Newry.
Once again, Aidan Carr and Peter Harte got to kick penalties – but the fact that the former failed to slot the one earned by Conor Maginn in the opening minute, while the latter scored his in the 52nd, proved pivotal.
Once again, Tyrone built up a decent first-half lead (six points) thanks to Ciaran McGinley's fly-kicked goal, but let it slip to just two (1-6 to 0-7) by half-time.
And once again, Down sprung Benny Coulter, who scored a marvellous point with his first touch.
But there the similarities ended. McGinley bagged a brilliant second goal just 24 seconds after the restart to help Tyrone take a seven-point lead and any hope of a Down comeback ended with Harte's penalty.
Another difference? Mickey Harte was delighted with the "consistency" of refereeing. "I want to congratulate Cormac Reilly," he said. "I'm not saying he got every call right, but he was consistent, you couldn't ask for better than that."
James McCartan was frustrated yet diplomatic, but it was clear Down were a lot less happy with the referee. Kevin McKernan was involved in Tyrone's dubious penalty award, he was judged to have fouled Ronan McNabb in the square while he was punching an open-goal chance wide.
He refused an interview request afterwards, muttering: "I might say something I regret."
Given the niggly nature of the game and a lot of off-the-ball pulling and dragging, it was surprising that it yielded so few cards (two) and no blacks, but, as McCartan said: "I'm sure both managers felt the same – the referee and linesmen can't have eyes in the back of their heads."
The penalty aside, Down were already beaten by much better forwards and a substantially improved Tyrone defence, brilliantly orchestrated by Mattie Donnelly, Justin McNulty and goalkeeper Niall Morgan in full Cluxton-esque mode.
McCartan was correct in saying the scoreline was "a bit cruel to us in the end" and admitted that half-time had come exactly at the wrong time for them, when they had built some momentum. Harte was understandably happy, particularly given that Down had turned his side over in a famous replay in the Marshes in 2008.
"At times we could have won the game last week as comfortably as we did tonight, but we didn't put it away at the times that it mattered," he said. "This time we kept going and we kept out the goals."
Had Carr put away that first- minute penalty who knows what might have happened, but he hit it straight at the Tyrone 'keeper, who also contributed 0-3.
Down pulled a rabbit out of the hat by starting Dan Gordon for his first game in two years in midfield, where he did well and, up front, they could have no complaints about the efforts of Maginn, Conor Laverty or top scorer Donal O'Hare. But Tyrone pressed up on their defence much more this time and smothered their counter-attacking style and they were also guilty of some bad defensive lapses.
Sean Cavanagh gave his usual warrior-like performance for the winners, McGinley continued his good form and Tyrone's half-backs were excellent.
But they shot too many wides (13), their starting full-forward line didn't contribute enough and Niall McKenna improved things on his introduction.
Harte said the spectre of '08 had haunted him a little in the build-up but added: "There is no such thing as a replay in my mind. Many things change."
He stirred debate once again by pointing out that his players, after two Ulster SFC games in seven days, return immediately to club championship this week, some of them by midweek.
"We won't have the players for 10 days, that's not ideal," he said. "I wasn't asked my opinion on that. It's much aired that managers are all-powerful and that they are dictators – but that's not the position in Tyrone.
"County players want fair play as well. It's okay to talk about the 98pc who play club football, but of those 100pc who play club and county, a lot of county players are unhappy."
It was an argument made in a measured, relaxed tone and he smiled while adding: "I'm just making my point, I hope that doesn't sound negative!" an obvious reference to GAA president Liam O'Neill's recent comments.
SCORERS – Tyrone: C McGinley 2-1, N Morgan 0-3 (2 45, 1f), P Harte 1-1 (1 pen), D McCurry 0-2 (2fs), Mattie Donnelly, R O'Neill, N McKenna, C McAliskey 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hare 0-6 (4fs), C Laverty 0-2, C Garvey, D Gordon, C Maginn, B Coulter 0-1 each.
TYRONE – N Morgan 8; R McNabb 7, J McNulty 8, R McNamee 6; Mattie Donnelly 9, A McCrory 6, P Harte7; C Cavanagh 7, C Clarke 6; E McKenna 5, S Cavanagh 8 (Capt), C McGinley 8; D McCurry 6, R O'Neill 6, K Coney 6. Subs: S O'Neill 5 for McKenna (HT), C Gormley 6 for McNamee (HT), N McKenna 7 for Coney (51), M Penrose 6 for McCurry (63), C McAliskey for R O'Neill (67), D McBride for Donnelly (68).
DOWN – B McVeigh 8; R Boyle 7, D McCartan 7, B McArdle 6; C Garvey 5, A Carr 5, D Rooney 6; D Gordon 8, K McKernan 7; C Maginn 7, M Poland (Capt) 5, N Madine 6; D O'Hare 7, J Johnston 5, C Laverty 6. Subs: B Coulter 6 for Carr (44), R Johnston 6 for Madine (47), A Rogers 5 for Johnston (60), D Turley 6 for McCartan (63).
REF – C Reilly (Meath).
Game at a glance
Man of the match
Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone)
Scoring 2-1 made Ciaran McGinley a serious contender, but Donnelly, who has been reinvented as a centre-back this season, was truly awesome in defence.
McGinley's second goal just 24 seconds after half-time. Within minutes Tyrone were seven points up and Down never recovered.
How late Down left it to spring Benny Coulter from the bench, considering the way his arrival had changed things a week earlier.
After 25 minutes Tyrone swept down the pitch with two crisp, inch-perfect passes from Niall Morgan and McGinley. Kyle Coney's shot dropped just short to the 'keeper, but if he'd scored, it would have been football perfection – a score to savour.
Mickey Harte rightly praised Cormac Reilly for his "consistency," but, in such a feisty game, it was surprising that there were only 31 frees and two late cards (both yellow).
What They Said
Mickey Harte (Tyrone manager):
"We pressed them more than we did last week and that upset their rhythm. They play quite defensively and then break from the back, but we decided to put a bit more heat on the ball."
"We hit the last four points before half-time and didn't really want it to come. They hit us with a sucker-punch straight away and left us with a mountain to climb."
Tyrone 13 (6 first half)
Down 4 (3)
Tyrone 12 (7)
Down 19 (9).
Tyrone 1 (Donnelly 54)
Down 1 (Coulter 56)
Tyrone play Monaghan in Clones on June 15, while Down next play in the All-Ireland qualifiers on June 28.