Saturday 24 February 2018

O'Neill steers Red Hands back to top flight

Tyrone 1-17 Meath 1-11

Meath’s Donal Keoghan leaps for a high ball against Tyrone’s Connor McAliskey in their Allianz NFL match in Navan Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Meath’s Donal Keoghan leaps for a high ball against Tyrone’s Connor McAliskey in their Allianz NFL match in Navan Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Meath’s Donal Lenihan is tackled by Tyrone’s Cathal McCarron during their game in Páirc Táilteann Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Michael Newman, Meath, is tackled by Pat McGeary,Tyrone Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When referee Fergal Kelly brought things in Navan to a close, his final whistle told two very different stories.

Tyrone had won their fifth league game on the bounce and their tenth game in a row since the start of the year. In the process they secured their place in the top flight for 2017.

Meath, on the other hand, lie joint-bottom of the table on three points alongside Armagh and Laois. They face trips to Derry and Portlaoise to maintain their second-tier status.

Tyrone's story is much happier. Only Galway and Cavan can join them on ten points and, as they play each other in the final round of fixtures, both of them won't be able to match the Red Hands' tally, therefore guaranteeing Mickey Harte's side one of the two top spots.

In any case it's unlikely Tyrone will let it come to such fine margins. In Navan yesterday they underlined why they are the best team in the division.


They had six points to spare and while that mightn't do justice to how competitive the home side were at times, there was never any doubt as to who was going to win.

Even when they were reduced to 13 men at the end, Tyrone were just too streetwise to cough up any meaningful scores to a game but at times naive Meath.

There were 12 minutes plus extensive injury time to play when Harte brought on his last sub. Between that and the final whistle, Conor Meyler was forced off with a hamstring injury and Kieran McGeary picked up a black card. Still they saw the game out with ease.

Meath got off to a bright start, finding the net with a brilliant team goal after four minutes in response to Ronan O'Neill's opening score from a free.

The Royals were patient in their build-up and maybe half a dozen players handled the ball inside the Tyrone '45' before Cillian O'Sullivan and Harry Rooney combined to give Mickey Newman a sight of goal. The Kilmainham man's finish was superb.

It would be a rare opening for the Royals, who squandered too many chances against a Tyrone side who gradually strangled the life out of the Meath attack.

"I thought we did some things very well but Tyrone gave us some lessons as well," manager Mick O'Dowd said. "Anything you create you have to take it. You don't get many of them against 12 or 13 men back.

"The goal we scored in the first half was an example of how to deal with a blanket, it was one of the best goals scored in Pairc Tailteann I'd say and there were some other scores like that in the first half.

"But the best team won, there's no complaints about that."

Tyrone were a point up after 15 minutes after O'Neill notched their goal. The otherwise solid Conor McGill misjudged the flight of the delivery and O'Neill stole in behind him to score. Tyrone went close again when Sean Cavanagh's effort clipped the crossbar and went over to put them 1-5 to 1-4 up on 23 minutes.

That was the first of seven unanswered points for Tyrone with the Royals landing the last two scores of the half to stay in touch at the break at 1-10 to 1-6.

Meath kept plugging away in the second half but they didn't look like grabbing the goal they'd need to reel Tyrone in. With Newman converting most of his chances from frees, they did manage to cut the gap to just two points at one point midway through the half but that was as close as they'd get.

Tyrone hit five of the last six points of the game to run out clear winners.

"We played good football at times and at times we were a little bit sloppy," Harte said."That means there is plenty to work on. If we can straighten out the things we can do better and keep doing the things we are doing well then that should bring us to a better place."

O'Neill (back), Conor Meyler (hamstring) and Ronan McNamee (ankle) all picked up injuries that will be assessed this week but Harte had the consolation of securing top flight football for his side.

"We did feel last year we did enough to stay in Division 1 but the league points didn't suggest so, so we had to get back there as quick as possible," he said.


For Meath manager O'Dowd, there was regret at a couple of late missed chances that might yet prove crucial in their bid for survival.

"Score difference is very important in a tight division and that's what I'd be looking at there," he said.

"Any score in a tight division could potentially be an important score so that's disappointing. That's the clinicalness you need.

"Tyrone as we know are a Division 1 team. That's what we were up against and in a lot of aspects of it I thought we competed well but over the course of the game the best team won.

"We need to get seven points," O'Dowd continued, when asked about the Royals' relegation battle.

"There's been a lot of good stuff in all of our performances in the league, which is a funny thing to say when you are sitting on three points joint-bottom of the table or whatever.

"We have to look forward and take all the good stuff we are doing and try and mould it into two big 70-minute performances."

SCORERS - Tyrone: R O'Neill 1-4 (0-2fs), P Harte (3fs), S Cavanagh (2fs) 0-3 each, M Donnelly, J Monroe 0-2 each, HP McGeary, N Sudden, R Donnelly 0-1 each. Meath: M Newman 1-7 (6fs, 1 '45'), A Tormey, C O'Sullivan, J McEntee, P Harnan 0-1 each.
Tyrone - M O'Neill 7; A McCrory 7, R McNamee 6, C McCarron 7; J Monroe 7, N Sludden 7, T McCann 7; C Cavanagh 8, M Donnelly 8; C McCann 7, P Harte 8, R Donnelly 7; C McAliskey 6, S Cavanagh 7, R O'Neill 8. Subs: HP McGreary 7 for McNamee (4), M Bradley 7 for McAliskey (47), P McNulty 7 for C McCann, C Meyler 7 for Sludden (both 51), K McGeary 5 for R Donnelly (55), R Brennan for O'Neill (58).
Meath - C McHugh 7; D Keogan 7, C McGill 7, M Burke 8; D Tobin 7, B Power 7, A Douglas 6; H Rooney 7, P Harnan 7; J McEntee 7, C O'Sullivan 8, G Reilly 6; E Wallace 6, M Newman 7, D Lenihan 6. Subs: C Finn 6 for Douglas (32), R O Caoileain 6 for Lenin (h-t), C O'Brien 6 for Tobin (45), C Downey 6 for McEntee (60), B Tormay 6 for Keogan (60 blood), B O'Brien for O'Sullivan (67), A Tormey for Reilly (69).
Ref - F Kelly (Longford).

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