Tyrone are wintering well
Tyrone 4-11 Monaghan 1-10:The nice man from the BBC asked Stephen O’Neill afterwards how he felt about winning what was, by the nice man from the BBC’s calculations, his eighth McKenna Cup.
O’Neill, still shivering after a man-of-the-match performance on a rotten night of icy rain and dive-bomb wind, had the good manners to conjure up some class of a response. Yet the baffled look that flashed across his face said what we were all thinking – life is far too short to know off the top of your head how many McKenna Cups a man has won. Especially when that man is a Tyrone man.
They farmed another one here on Saturday night, ultimately slicing and dicing Malachy O’Rourke’s callow Monaghan side who lost whatever chance they had of making a game of it in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Playing into a relentless gale in front of a crowd of 4,840, Monaghan had looked like keeping Tyrone to a perfectly respectable three-point lead going in at the break.
But the combination of an O’Neill goal followed a minute later by a straight red card for Monaghan corner-back Ronan McNally left the road too steep.
For Mickey Harte, it was a routine piece of early-season humdrum. It’s 10 years almost to the day since his first encounter with Monaghan as Tyrone manager, a 1-11 to 0-12 defeat in a McKenna Cup final from another time.
Ever since, Tyrone have generally dealt with Monaghan without any great measure of fuss – Harte has only seen his side lose once in nine further matches in all competitions. And although Monaghan gave them plenty in the opening half hour, ultimately the result rhymed with the encounters that had gone before.
“There was nothing given handy,” said Harte afterwards. “You had to work for it. We were under pressure in the first 20 minutes because we had a strong breeze and Monaghan did all the forcing of the game. The goals are always crucial – we got that first one which gave us a bit of momentum and the second one just before half-time was a lovely time to get a goal.
“We haven’t played Division One teams yet so we have to be mindful of that. We’ve played competitive games here, particularly tonight because that was a very competitive match. But those boys will benefit from having that experience in a final because finals are there to be won. Nobody goes into a final not wanting to win it. So there’s a competitive edge there and they they’ve experienced something tonight that they wouldn’t get in a challenge game or an in-house game.”
Harte was being kind to the Monaghan challenge but not excessively so. O’Rourke’s side did well playing against the wind and had a smartly taken goal from Kieran Hughes to thank for the 1-3 to 0-3 lead they enjoyed after 20 minutes. And even though they got muddled up in front of their own goal to present Mark Donnelly with a simple goal on 28 minutes, they still looked like they’d be well in touch at half-time.
But the one-two punch of O’Neill’s goal and McNally’s red card did for them. The goal came when Donnelly ran on to a deft feed from Peter Harte and though his shot drew a fine save out of Mark Keogh, O’Neill was on hand to apply a finish of cool and class to make it 2-7 to 1-4.
As for the red card, McNally had taken a hefty foul from Harte – who has clearly added tough tackling to his vast range of talents over the winter – and in the messy clinch that followed, the Monaghan defender hit out and caught Harte in the unmentionables. It was hardly a haymaker but the linesman was standing 10 feet away and McNally had to go.
And just to snuff out Monaghan’s hopes entirely, Donnelly got in for his second goal three minutes after the restart – thanks mainly to a glorious assist from O’Neill.
Monaghan kept at it and used the wind to pad out their score but they never got any closer than six points short of Tyrone. When Peter Harte hammered in the final stake with a last-kick-of-the-game penalty, Monaghan were down to 13 men with Dessie Mone seeing a second yellow card in its concession.
“The boys were working hard for each other and the system we were playing was doing okay,” said O’Rourke. “To be honest, I think it was individual mistakes . . . they will be exploited ruthlessly. And then, getting a man sent off before half-time was a body blow. The boys stuck at it but it was just too much.”