Second-half comeback sees Tyrone overpower Cork and seal back-to-back victories
Tyrone 2-15 Cork 2-12
TYRONE, as expected, virtually made sure of appearing in their third All-Ireland semi-final on the spin when they stumbled past Cork in round 2 of the Super 8s in Croke Park.
Seven points down in the 26th minute and five behind at the break, a two-goal burst from a Cathal McShane strike and a Peter Harte penalty in a three-minute spell in the third quarter turned the game back in Tyrone's favour.
Though they subsequently failed to kill off the Cork challenge due primarily to the excellence of substitute Michael Hurley who kicked five points after his introduction with 20 minutes left, they still made it two wins on the spin in the Super 8s.
While Cork have come a long way this summer, they now have to adjust to the reality of a season in Division 3 of the Allianz league next spring but at least they're looking again like a team that might ultimately challenge Kerry for provincial honours in Munster.
The other take-home message from Croke Park was that the stadium is profoundly unsuitable for staging Super 8 games. It was three-quarters empty for most of the match.
If the Super 8 structure is to be retained, which is by no means certain given its propensity for throwing up dead rubbers in the last round, then the so-called Croke Park round will have to be played at a neutral venue.
Such a move would also neatly solve the issue of Dublin's unfair advantage of two matches in the stadium in this phase of the championships.
In their eighth championship match of the summer, they started as selected while Antrim-born James Loughney was left out of the Cork defence with his place being taken by Stephen Cronin.
The Rebels made a sensational start, scoring a goal within 16 seconds of the throw-in. It was Luke Connolly who finished the move hitting his fourth goal of the championship. But the chance was created by the combined efforts of Mattie Taylor, Brian Hurley and Ian Maguire who provided the final assist.
The start wasn't a preclude of what was to come as both teams pulled virtually all their players behind the ball once they surrendered possession, which resulted in a lot of aimless lateral movement of the ball.
But the pattern of the game was suiting Cork as Tyrone were restricted to two points in total and one from play in the first 15 minutes, while the Rebels kicked three as Ian Maguire emerged as the most influential player on the field in the early exchanges.
Cork had to replace centre back Thomas Clancy after just 12 minutes with Loughrey coming in and what a sensational impact he made.
With just 19 minutes on the clock, Maguire initiated another move on down the right flank of the Tyrone defence which Ruairi Deane carried on before linking up with Loughrey who was streaming through the cover.
Nobody laid a glove on him and though there was unmarked colleague inside, Loughrey backed himself and drove an unstoppable shot past Niall Morgan and into the roof of the Tyrone net.
Suddenly Cork were seven points clear and Tyrone faced a crisis. Their first reaction was to press up on Mark White's re-starts but the next Cork kick out came to nothing with Mattie Donnelly hitting a poor wide.
Cork continued to look comfortable and their blanket defence looked a lot more resolute than the Tyrone version, though they were outscored 2-1 during the remainder of the half.
Tyrone appeared to be winning frees far more easily than Cork who were full value for their five-point interval lead (2-4; 0-5).
Mickey Harte kept his charges in the dressing for 19 minutes at the break and rung the changes with Richard Donnelly, Padraig Hampsey and Michael Cassidy replacing Darren McCurry, Brian Kennedy and Hugh Pat McGeary respectively.
But crucially it was Cork who hit the first score of the half - a 38th-minute point from Sean White. McShane replied with a Tyrone free but the game was turned on its head in the space of three minutes.
Mattie Donnelly and Michael McKernan combined on the right to set up an unmarked McShane who palmed the ball past Mark White.
Just when they needed it most, Cork's kick-out strategy went awry with the Rebels losing two on the spin and Tyrone exacted full retribution. Peter Harte hit a free and then Niall Sludden was pushed in the back by Mattie Taylor as he bore down on goal and pulled his shot wide.
Harte held his nerve to drive the resultant penalty low into the corner and Tyrone were in front for the first time (2-7; 2-5). In fairness to Cork they steadied the ship and stayed in touch.
Crucially though, they squandered two goal chances within 90 seconds with 15 minutes left. First, substitute Michael Hurley opted to fist the ball over the bar when a goal looked on. In the next significant play Niall Morgan was caught in no-man's land.
A timely shoulder from Frank Burns averted the initial danger but in the follow up Ruairi Deane's pass put Luke Connolly free but he opted to control the ball with his foot rather than take it into his hand and first-timed his shot wide.
Though a brace of Michael Hurley points twice levelled the game coming down the final straight, Tyrone's relentless, the excellence of Mattie Donnelly and an unravelling of Cork's kick-outs gave the Ulster side a vital edge at the business end of the contest.
Man of the Match Donnelly – who kicked three second-half points from play – was denied a goal in injury time by a super save from Mark White after Tyrone literally attempted to walk the ball into the Cork net.
But a 73rd-minute point from substitute John O'Rourke and a fourth from Michael Hurley meant it was nervy finish from Tyrone – much in keeping the overall nature of their performance.
Scorers: Tyrone: P Harte (1 pen, 3f),C McShane (4f) 1-5 each; M Donnelly 0-3, C Meyler, T McCann 0-1 each.
Cork: L Connolly 1-3 (2 f), J Loughrey (1-0). M Hurley 0-4, M Collins 0-2 (2f), S Taylor, White, J O'Rourke 0-1 each
Tyrone: N Morgan; R Brennan, R McNamee, HP McGeary, C Meyler, K McGarry, M McKernan; C Cavanagh, B Kennedy; M Donnelly, N Sludden, P Harte; D McCurry, C McShane, F Burns. Subs: M Cassidy for HP McGeary ht; R Donnelly for McCurry ht; P Hampsey for Kennedy ht; T McCann for McKernan (51), C McAliskey for Sludden (55)
Cork: M White; S Cronin, T Clancy, K Flahive; L O' Donovan, T Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire, K O'Hanlon; S White, K O'Driscoll, R Deane; L Connolly, B Hurley, M Collins. Subs: J Loughrey for T Clancy (12), P Kerrigan for Hurley (48), M Hurley for Collins (51), S Powter for S White (59), J O'Rourke for O'Driscoll (59), S Sherlock for Cronin (67)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)