Harte's penalty proves crucial as Royals come up short
TYRONE 1-10 MEATH 0-11
Tyrone may have won a tense Qualifier at Healy Park, but Meath salvaged some pride as their season drew to a close.
The Royals travelled north with a desperate need to achieve redemption from their second-half collapse to Westmeath at Croke Park, and for long stretches they looked capable of pulling off a win over an out-of-sorts home side.
The crucial score came halfway through the second half, when Peter Harte blasted home a penalty, and that score gave Mickey Harte's men the confidence they had so badly been lacking to that point.
Trailing at the break after a very low-scoring opening half, Tyrone looked in danger of losing out on home turf for the second year in a row.
In the meantime, they lost their place in Division 1 of the National League, and with Seán Cavanagh the only remaining link to their maiden All-Ireland-winning side, the glory days seemed a distant, if warming, memory for Tyrone supporters.
But now they have an opportunity to build some momentum, and having travelled successful journeys through the Qualifier route in the past, they could well enjoy a long summer of 2015.
Mickey Harte shook things up before the throw-in, replacing half of the forward line he had named two days earlier, with Mark Bradley, Barry Tierney and debutant Richie Donnelly brought in.
Playing with the wind and rain in their backs, they struggled to get any momentum going, despite the vision and effective foot-passing of Peter Harte and Bradley. They appeared to be lacking in confidence, and lacked conviction in their ability to take on defenders, despite the fragile state of a Meath defence that had been torn to shreds by Westmeath.
An early chance was missed when Joe McMahon's long punt hopped over the heads of two defenders, but a stretching Connor McAliskey just failed to reach the ball.
Seán Cavanagh eased the home side into a two-point lead with a couple of well-taken scores from play, and with 13 men deep in their own half, they suffocated the Meath defence and rendered the danger men virtually redundant.
The Royals were lacking in ideas and often clumsy in possession of the greasy ball, offering little in the way of offensive threat for the best part of half an hour.
All that changed, however, in the closing stages of the half. Michael Newman managed to break through to get a shot away, which was kept out by Niall Morgan's outstretched boot.
But they continued to press, with Andrew Tormey prompting from deep and Harry Rooney using his power to drive forward.
Their opening point came from defender Donncha Tobin in the 29th minute, but they struck three in as many minutes, going ahead through Newman, who made it 0-4 to 0-2 with his second converted free.
Bradley pulled back a free in stoppage time, but at the break it was Meath who led by 0-4 to 0-3.
Brian McMahon increased the advantage, and as Meath began to realise that this was a game they were capable of winning, their confidence soared. However, the vastly experienced Joe McMahon stood in their way on more than one occasion, and the introduction of Darren McCurry added an extra spark to Tyrone's attacking effort, while Tiernan McCann also came in to add dash and drive.
McAliskey and Harte pulled back points, and Harte blasted home the penalty in the 54th minute after McCann had been hauled down going for goal.
Suddenly Tyrone had a two-point lead, but they were soon on the back foot again, and when Graham Reilly charged through to boot over an inspirational score, Mick O'Dowd's men signalled that they still had much to offer.
Kevin Reilly came off the bench to fire over another Royal point, and they battled right to the end, with Reilly bringing his tally to three. But McCann was a man inspired, and kept running at the Meath defence, helping his club colleague Bradley shoot a couple of important scores.
Meath were still pressing, with Brian Menton's late point giving them hope, when time ran out.
Scorers - Tyrone: P Harte 1-1 (1-0 pen), M Bradley 0-3 (1f), S Cavanagh 0-2, C McAliskey, D McCurry, T McCann, R McNabb 0-1 each; Meath: G Reilly 0-3, K Reilly M Newman (2f) 0-2 each, B Menton, B McMahon, D Keogan, D Tobin 0-1 each.
Tyrone: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, Joe McMahon, R Brennan; P Harte, C Cavanagh; R Donnelly, M Donnelly, B Tierney; M Bradley, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey. Subs: D McCurry for R Donnelly (h-t), T McCann for Tierney (h-t), C McKenna for Brennan (42), C McShane for Bradley (70).
Meath: C McHugh; J McEntee, C McGill, D Tobin; D Keogan, D Dalton, P Harnan; B Menton, H Rooney; G Reilly, M Newman, A Tormey; E Wallace, S Bray, B McMahon. Subs: D Lenihan for Wallace (13), K Reilly for Newman (54), S Tobin for Bray (63).
Referee: C Branagan (Down)
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