Tyrone keep calm in a tight finish


ULSTER SFC QUARTER-FINAL: Tyrone 0-19 Armagh 1-13:THE NAMES change and the faces get fresher by the year but for as long as Tyrone are cheek and Armagh are jowl, these days will still have a pull about them. They jammed 16,148 fidgety bodies into Armagh’s little city bowl here yesterday and what played out was a bustling epic all of its own.

Gone (well, going) are the days when you held a finger up to one of these games to work out in which direction the All-Ireland wind might be blowing but no matter – a game this entertaining didn’t need a regal context to speak up for it.

Tyrone ultimately breasted the tape but nobody was calling a winner five minutes from the end. A couple of soaring Brian Mallon frees – the second of which split the posts from all of 48 metres on 66 minutes – tied a game that Armagh could have long since given up on.

They might have lain down when Tyrone pushed four points ahead early in the second half with Aaron Kernan gone at half-time due to a hamstring problem; or they could have wilted when Kevin Dyas saw the line for a couple of silly yellow cards with 15 minutes to go.

Their excuses were neatly lined up if they’d felt like reaching out and pulling them off the shelf.

But instead Paddy O’Rourke’s young side gave their people plenty to take home with them yesterday. Tyrone scored the closing three points to take the victory but they needed every hand on a shovel to dig them out of it.

In the end, they probably saw more of referee Joe McQuillan’s benign side than Armagh did and Martin Penrose had no major trouble kicking two late frees to help them over the line. Although Mickey Harte claimed afterwards that he thought McQuillan leaned more so in the opposite direction, he knew well that Tyrone had the skin of their teeth to show off and no more.

“People got serious value for money out there today,” he said. “People talk about blanket defences and this, that and the other and it’s as if people have no right to change what they do, or experiment with what they do. Out there today, I mean, 1-13 to 0-19 tells its own tale.

“And it wasn’t that it was very open either because there was plenty of good defending done as well. Football has a lot more to offer than some of those narrow-minded pundits might have you believe.”

You’d have had to be churlish in the extreme not to have found plenty to enjoy here right from the outset. Though the first two scores were from frees, Joe McMahon’s outside-of-the-boot effort for Tyrone was one of the points of the days.

That was in the third minute and we didn’t see another free scored until the 20th, by which time Tyrone led 0-6 to 1-2.

A necklace of gleaming points from Penrose, Owen Mulligan, Peter Harte and the excellent Colm Cavanagh was answered by a point from the equally excellent Jamie Clarke and a fine goal from Aidan Forker. The game was fast-moving and precise, with clever kick-passing a feature throughout.

Tyrone pushed three clear by half-time with Stephen O’Neill, corner-back Dermot Carlin and Penrose again doing the needful and the feeling that they were ultimately going to have too much firepower was hard to shift.

Clarke was doing his best to keep Armagh relevant though and at times he was unplayable. He’s such a willowy presence, a wind-chime tinkle in a foghorn world. Yet it’s the rare defender who can make him appear less than fully-balanced and his ability to fashion accurate attempts on goal from half-chances is uncanny.

He finished the afternoon with five points – three from play – and all while drawing more attention from the Tyrone defence than any other Armagh player.

Cavanagh, Penrose and Joe McMahon were terrific for Tyrone but it was Clarke who had the strongest claim on man of the match.

Despite going four behind shortly after the break, Armagh found a rally from somewhere. Substitute Gavin McParland scored a couple of rousing points on his introduction and although Penrose hit back with two of his own by the 55th minute, the home crowd weren’t heading for the gates just yet.

Even when Dyas saw his red card, it was only a prelude for Armagh to kick the next three points in a row to draw level. But those late Penrose frees allied to a couple of classy efforts from O’Neill and Harte saw Tyrone home.

In the end, Mickey Harte’s side deserved it. A game whose pulse throbbed all the way to the end called for calm heads and Tyrone just about had more of them. Whatever their late-summer ambitions, here they were just delighted to get out of the Athletic Grounds alive.

’Twas ever thus. ’Twill ever be.

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, D McKenna; A Kernan (0-1, free), C McKeever, F Moriarty; K Toner, M Mackin; A Forker (1-0), K Dyas (0-1), A Duffy; J Clarke (0-5, two frees), B Mallon (0-4, all frees), C Rafferty. Subs: P Duffy for McKenna, 19 mins; G McParland (0-2) for Kernan (half-time); J Hanratty for Forker (48 mins); C Vernon for Moriarty (54 mins); J Kingham for Mackin (57 mins).

TYRONE: P McConnell; A McCrory, Justin McMahon, D Carlin (0-1); C McCarron, C Gormley, Sean O’Neill; Joe McMahon (0-1, free), C Cavanagh (0-2); R McNabb, M Donnelly (0-1), P Harte (0-2), M Penrose (0-8, five frees), Stephen O’Neill (0-2), O Mulligan (0-2, one free). Subs: M Murphy for Justin McMahon (half-time); N McKenna for Mulligan (66 mins); R McMenamin for McCarron (68 mins); P McNeice for Donnelly (73 mins).

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

Att: 16,418

Managers put referee front and centre

Two managers, one referee, no consensus. It would be hard to argue that Joe McQuillan had any great effect on this Ulster quarter-final yet both Mickey Harte and Paddy O’Rourke found themselves talking through gritted teeth about him in its aftermath.

It seemed a little incongruous – for Harte especially, seeing as the free-kick count had gone 24-17 in his side’s favour – yet both men decided to raise the issue of the referee unprompted.

“It was a battle to the end,” said Harte, “and I suppose Armagh nearly got themselves into a winning position after they had a man sent off. It was a bit ironical, they stepped it up at that stage and it took us a while to come to terms with the fact we had this spare man. Where was he, how do we use him, are we not using him?

“I suppose, I would say again, if you would look at the consistency of the man in the middle. It might have had an impact on the game as well. Maybe I’m looking at it through biased eyes, but I did feel we had a little bit more difficulty in getting a free, sometimes it went the other way.”

O’Rourke could have pointed to more than just the free-kick stats – his side saw five yellow cards to Tyrone’s one after all. Plus they finished the game with 14 men after Kevin Dyas was sent off.

To neutral eyes, there was little Dyas could have quibbled about in how he collected either yellow card.

Then again, we can hardly expect O’Rourke’s eyes to be neutral.

“The players gave everything. They probably lost the game to slightly the better team but probably on reflection losing Dyas cost us the match. I think we could have pushed on in the last 10 minutes and won the game but it’s very hard to do that when you’re down a man.

“We lost Dyas who was having a good game and he’s a good link player. I suppose you always feel that some of the decisions that go against you are a bit harsh. I don’t think Kevin Dyas did anything to get a red card. I don’t know if the referee ticked him beforehand or not.

“I felt Tyrone got a lot of frees and I wondered at the time if they were all justified. It seemed to me that Jamie Clarke was getting pulled and mauled a bit at the other end and found frees that bit harder to come by.” Malachy Clerkin