Friday 23 February 2018

Unconvincing Red Hands too strong for Sligo

Tyrone 0-21 Sligo 0-14

Mark Bradley, Tyrone, in action against Daniel Maye, Sligo
Mark Bradley, Tyrone, in action against Daniel Maye, Sligo
Stephen Gilmartin, Sligo, in action against Tyrone players, left to right, Joe McMahon, Colm Cavanagh and Aidan McCrory
Mark Breheny, Sligo, in action against Peter Harte, Tyrone
Sligo’s Adrian Marren is surrounded by Tyrone playersdefender

Francis Mooney

It wasn't quite as soul-destroying as the Hyde Park horror show of a few weeks ago, but Sligo's exit from the All-Ireland series was no less painful as they bowed out at the hands of a Tyrone side that failed to display its ruthless side.

Tyrone surprised no-one in Croke Park yesterday with the relative comfort of their Qualifier Round 4B victory as they despatched the losing Connacht finalists to march on to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

The Red Hands led by six points at the break, and were already well on their way to a tenth quarter-final in Mickey Harte's reign as manager, although there was always a sense that they were playing well within themselves.

They failed to dominate Sligo to the extent that they needed to if they want to considered as genuine title contenders.

Sligo looked traumatised by their Mayo demolition, and they never looked like repeating their memorable 2002 triumph over the Red Hands at the same venue.

Tyrone have yet to take down any of the big-hitters, but they have moved smoothly through four Qualifier rounds with a calm assurance to claim their place in the last eight. Some of their key players have adapted to new roles, improving the team dynamic.

More demanding challenges lie ahead as they attempt to make it to the semi-finals for only the third time since their last Sam Maguire Cup triumph in 2008, but an evolving team appears to be on track and ready for the next step.

Darren McCurry had three points on the board inside the opening 11 minutes, Tyrone's strong running game and speed on the counter-attack giving them an edge that they were converting into scores.

But Sligo were able to expose chinks in a well established defensive system, particularly when Cian Breheny was able to break through two banks of cover to land a 13th-minute point to reduce the deficit to three.

Pat Hughes and David Kelly had also hit the target, but they were unable to match the precision of Tyrone's movement of the ball, particularly when under 21 star Mark Bradley gained possession to use his vision, decision-making and passing accuracy.

Conor Meyler and Connor McAliskey linked to send Bradley in for a point, and when defender Rory Brenna and Sean Cavanagh also found the target, the Ulster side led by 0-9 to 0-4 with 22 minutes played.

Two excellent points from play brought McCurry's tally to five, and Bradley's creativity opened another door for the Red Hands as he sent Cavanagh in to punch over his second.

Sligo suffered a blow with the loss of impressive young midfielder Cian Breheny to injury, and they trailed by double scores at the break, 0-12 to 0-6.

A nervous start to the second half saw Tyrone miss a string of chances, while Sligo pulled back scores through Adrian Marren and Mark Breheny, both from frees.

Bradley and McCurry got the Red Hands back on track with neat scores, and space was beginning to open up in the Sligo defence as they were forced to commit men to the offensive effort.

However, the Yeats men were dangerous on the breakaway, with Breheny adding another couple of scores, and Tyrone's lack of killer instinct was illustrated when Cavanagh sliced through the Sligo cover, but with men on either side, opted to punch over the bar when a goal would almost certainly have killed off their opponents.

At this stage, the Westerners were still very much in it, just four points adrift with 15 minutes to play, albeit the energy visibly draining from tiring bodies.

Ronan McNabb epitomised the battling Tyrone spirit with some courageous challenges, and Tiernan McCann drove strongly from deep as Harte's men picked off the scores, with Peter Harte, Colm Cavanagh and McCurry all finding the target.

Tyrone had goal chances in the closing stages, but substitutes Conal McCann and Padraig McNulty both lacked conviction with shots that were easily blocked by defenders.

Scorers - Tyrone: D McCurry 0-8 (3f, 1 '45'), S Cavanagh, M Donnelly 0-3 each, M Bradley 0-2, P Harte, R Brennan, N Morgan, C Cavanagh, C McAliskey 0-1 each. Sligo: M Breheny 0-6 (3f), P Hughes 0-3, A Marren 0-2 (2f), D Kelly, N Murphy, C Breheny 0-1 each.

Tyrone: N Morgan, A McCrory, R McNamee, R McNabb, R Brennan, Joe McMahon, P Harte, C Cavanagh, M Donnelly, T McCann, M Bradley, C Meyler, D McCurry, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey. Subs: C McCann for Meyler (48), P McNulty for Bradley (57), Justin McMahon for Joe McMahon (59), D McBride for C Cavanagh (61), R O'Neill for McAliskey (61), C Clarke for Donnelly (68).

Sligo: A Devaney, R Donavan, K Cawley, D Maye, B Egan, E Flangan, B Curran, C Breheny, S Gilmartin, N Ewing, M Breheny, N Murphy, D Kelly, P Hughes, A Marren. Subs: K McDonnell for C Breheny (33), J Hynes for Gilmartin (56), C Davey for Ewing (57), L Bree for Maye (61), K Sweeney for Hughes (69).

Referee: R Hickey (Clare)

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