Wednesday 25 April 2018

Tyrone hold their nerve


Tyrone goalkeeper, Pascal McConnell blocks a free kick as Meath go in search of a last-gasp goal in Croke Park last night.
Tyrone goalkeeper, Pascal McConnell blocks a free kick as Meath go in search of a last-gasp goal in Croke Park last night.

Damian Lawlor

A VINTAGE display from Sean Cavanagh sent Tyrone into an All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Monaghan after a dramatic and intense win over Meath yesterday evening.

And the GAA last night confirmed that the game will be the opening match in a double-header in Croke Park next Saturday night, along with the heavyweight clash between Dublin and Cork which is bound to attract a sell-out crowd.

On Sunday afternoon, also in Croke Park, Cavan take on Munster champions Kerry, followed by a repeat of last year's All-Ireland, Mayo versus Donegal.

Tyrone, who had Stephen O'Neill sent off in the dying moments for a second yellow card, have lots of work to do before Saturday's game.

Mickey Harte's men survived a shaky opening and an uncomfortable restart, they just about looked comfortable enough to get by a plucky Meath team, who themselves were stimulated by former Irish champion sprinter Eamon Wallace who had the game of his young life last night.

Meath have the makings of a fine side. They were a bit panicky at times and made the wrong choices under pressure. Just Wallace managed to score from play in the second half, but overall they are going places.

Tyrone kicked some clumsy wides and relied way too much on the older Cavanagh brother, who hit eight points at HQ. Darren McCurry put in a good shift, but they'll need a lot more from their attack if they are to progress to the semi-finals.

Meath began with a swagger and managed to fire a classy goal after just seven minutes. Yet, they trailed by four points by the time the whistle sounded for the half-time break. They can put that down to clumsiness and a determined Tyrone comeback, mainly through the inspired Sean Cavanagh.

Before Cavanagh went into turbo gear, Wallace pounced for a most inspirational score. His seventh-minute goal was a gift from the heavens. After gathering possession from Michael Newman, the youngster left the Tyrone defence for dead with his scintillating burst of speed to bury a clinical goal; it helps when you have won Irish sprint championships at under 19 level and capable of running 100 metres in 10.5 seconds, I guess.

Wallace pumped the air with delight and Meath got hold of the game. Joe Sheridan moved out to the half-forward line and they won a couple of frees which Newman pointed.

From there they should have pushed on, but they struggled with the blanket defence and Tyrone seized control of the game. With Martin Penrose a little further up the pitch, the Ulster giants had three serious targets in himself, O'Neill or McCurry.

But they didn't always need them. With Conor Gormley pulling the strings deep in his own defence and Peter Harte breaking free with almost every counter-attack, there were plenty of white and red shirts available for shot selection.

With Meath stalled, Tyrone went a point up after 24 minutes as the 33,761 crowd was treated to an exhibition of point-scoring from Sean Cavanagh, the best player on the pitch. Most of those scores were from distance and two were from play, including one where he sold a trademark outrageous dummy before slotting over, and another rocket which was launched from under the shadows of the Hogan Stand.

Meath, meanwhile, gave the ball away too easily. They conceded 11 points in the first half and only an excellent Stephen Bray score from the bowels of the Cusack Stand prevented them from going into the dressing room almost too far behind. They trailed 0-11 to 1-4 with 35 minutes ahead of them.

The margin was down to just one, though, when Newman fired a penalty past the giant frame of Pascal McConnell, no easy feat, after Conor Gormley took Seamus Kenny down. Wallace tacked another point over to level as the sizeable Meath crowd roared on in delight.

Meath had clearly made the decision to move the ball quickly and intelligently after being far too ponderous in the opening half. Still, both teams clocked up a fair share of silly wides and dropped balls short as the game unfolded.

With 20 minutes left, Aidan Cassidy almost set Colm Cavanagh up for a goal but it was blocked at point-blank range by Paddy O'Rourke. McCurry missed the resultant '45' and, soon after, Meath's in-form wing-forward Wallace nabbed another point to send Meath back in front, 2-7 to 0-12 after 52 minutes.

Suspense hung in the air as this drama ebbed towards a final chapter, and Tyrone were steadied by another great Cavanagh free.

Scorers – Tyrone: S Cavanagh 0-8 (6f), D McCurry (4f) 0-5, Matthew Donnelly 0-2, S O'Neill, A Cassidy 0-1 each; Meath: M Newman 1-5 (pen, 5f), E Wallace 1-3, S Bray 0-1.

Tyrone: P McConnell; R McKenna, C Clarke, C McCarron; C McGinley, P Harte, C Gormley; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh; Matthew Donnelly, Mark Donnelly, Joe McMahon; D McCurry, S O'Neill, M Penrose. Subs: A Cassidy for Mark Donnelly (h/t), D Carlin for C McCarron (50), K Coney for M Penrose (65), P McNeese for C Cavanagh (70)

Meath: P O'Rourke; D Keogan, K Reilly, B Menton; P Harnan, M Burke, S Kenny; B Meade, C Gillespie; E Wallace, D Carroll, G Reilly; S Bray, J Sheridan; M Newman. Subs: B Farrell for J Sheridan (42), P Byrne for D Carroll (50), A Tormey for B Meade (54), C Lenehan for S Kenny (65)

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)

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