Three red cards in McKenna Cup final battle as Tyrone hold off Armagh at the death
Armagh 0-14 Tyrone 0-16
Mickey Harte is the manager with the midas touch when it comes to the McKenna Cup.
Tonight at the Athletic Grounds he won the trophy for the 11th time as a manager as the beaten All-Ireland finalists held off a late challenge from 13-man Armagh to secure the silverware.
Referee Joe McQuillan handed out three red cards – Tyrone full back Ronan McNamee and the Armagh pair James Morgan and Aaron McKay were dismissed - and 11 yellows in a bad tempered contest
A missed penalty from Rory Grugan five minutes from the end of normal time – his shot went over the bar – proved critical as did a late free miss from Niall Grimley but a late point from a mark from Cathal McShane in the sixth minute of injury time secured the title for last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists.
The new hand-pass rule was binned in the wake of the Central Council decision not to continue with it in the league. Only in the GAA could the same competition be run under different rules at the start compared to the end – but then we're still in pre-season mode.
Appearing in their tenth consecutive McKenna Cup final, Tyrone fielded six of their All-Ireland side. The home side had nine of their championship plus Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell, who weren't available for selection in 2018.
A more clinical Armagh could have been comfortably ahead after only ten minutes as a full press court on Niall Morgan's kick-out saw Tyrone repeatedly surrender possession from their re-starts.
Still, though squandering a goal – it did yield a point from a 45 - and two point chances, Armagh were 0-4 to 0-1 ahead after the early skirmishes in which Jamie Clarke's cuteness won two frees off Ciaran McLaughlin.
Tyrone, who didn't register their first score from play until the 21st minute, did find their rhythm in the second quarter reeling off five points on the spin including a brace from Niall Sludden to move 7-5 ahead after 30 minutes and they were three ahead at the break (0-9; 0-6).
An off the ball altercation between two players eventually sucked in half a dozen players on the edge of the Armagh D, sparking an ugly brawl. When order was restored the referee booked Armagh's Aaron McKay and Brendan Donaghy – which meant they had four defenders on yellow cards – and Tyrone wing forward Conal McCann.
Interestingly, the free count indicated that Armagh were the more aggressive conceding 17 frees compared to five for Tyrone, who were far more clinical in front of the posts compared to the home side.
A Rory Grugan point reduced the deficit to two shortly after the resumption before a sweeping three-man move involving Ronan O'Neill, and Michael Cassidy ended in Darren McCurry hitting a super point from play but Stefan Campbell grabbed an equally eye-catching point at the other end as the scoring rate from play improved dramatically.
Cathal McShane missed an open goal for Tyrone in the 45th minute, which would probably have put the contest beyond Armagh's reach but Niall Grimley's left it a two point game again before another bout of grappling disrupted the play. The ever tolerant Joe McQuillan contented himself by booking Tyrone's Liam Rafferty and Armagh's Rian O'Neill.
Though full back Ronan McNamee restored Tyrone three point lead, two points on the spin from a Jamie Clarke mark and O'Neill left it a one point game with 15 minutes left and the biggest cheer of the night erupted in the 56th minute when a Rory Grugan tied it up.
McCurry's sixth pointed free of the evening after Peter Harte was upended on the edge of the parallelogram restored Tyrone's slender advantage. Nine minutes from the end Armagh's James Morgan was red carded after picking up a second booking and McCurry magnificently curled it in off the left hand post.
But the drama was far from over. Kieran McGeary swooped the ball off the line with his hand to prevent a Stefan Campbell goal but Rory Grugan's penalty struck the top of the crossbar and went over the bar.
McQuillan's endless patience finally ran out when he red carded Tyrone's Ronan McNamee and Armagh's Aaron McKay after yet another off the ball melee and the pair clashed again as they left the field.
McCurry and Grugan exchanged frees; Niall Grimley missed a chance to bring Armagh level before Cathal McShane point from a mark sealed a thrilling win for Tyrone.
Armagh: B Hughes; C Mackin, A McKay, J Morgan; R McCaughley, B Donaghy, G McCabe; S Sheridan, N Grimley (0-5, 4f, 1 45); J Hall, R Grugan (0-5, 4f, 1 pen)), R McShane; S Campbell (0-2), R O'Neill (0-1), J Clarke (0-1, 1m) . Subs: J McElroy for Donaghy ht; J McElroy for McShane ht; C Vernon for McCabe 49m; Darren McMcKenna for Clarke 60m, K Coney for Grugan 61m; R McQuillan for Hall 62m
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1, 1f); C McLaughlin, R McNamee (0-1), L Rafferty; T McCann, A McCrory, M Cassidy; C C Grugan, D McClure (0-1); N Sludden (0-2), R O'Neill, C McCann; D McCurry (0-9, 8f), P Harte, C McShane (0-2,1 m). Subs: C Meyler for McCann 42m; M Donnelly for Cassidy 43m; Kieran McGeary for Rafferty 50m D Canavan for O'Neill 50m
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)