Tyrone take full advantage of Cork’s black card to secure home preliminary quarter-final

Cork will be on the road next weekend after finishing third in Group Three

Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly is challenged by Colm O’Callaghan of Cork during the All-Ireland SFC Round 3 game at Glenisk O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
All-Ireland Group 3, Round 3: Tyrone 1-18 Cork 0-17

A game that had been close and interesting for three-quarters of an hour died after a short illness. In the space of a few minutes Cork were hit with a black card and a soft, sickening goal and having been the better team for about 40 minutes they suddenly looked deflated and disorientated. In that state, they had no way back.

Tyrone were good for as long as it took to put Cork away. Right now, they look like a team that could make a day-trip to Croke Park without looking like the team that won the All-Ireland only three years ago. In that time, they have played 14 championship matches and lost half of them. In the weeds of that statistic, this was the first time since 2021 that they had won back-to-back championship games. Everything has a context.

The prize for Tyrone is second place in Group Three and home advantage for their preliminary quarter-final next weekend. Cork ended up with four points – the same as Tyrone and Donegal – but their narrow win over Clare in the opening round was ultimately the tiebreaker. Tyrone beat Clare by 14 points; Donegal beat them by 24.

After a couple of months in which the football season flowed serenely, like a canal, there is suddenly some white water. In the quick turnaround from the group format to the knock-out stages everyone is dealing with something. Tyrone lost Kieran McGeary to an injury in the warm-up on Saturday and they lost Conn Kilpatrick to a straight red card seven minutes from the end of normal time.

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Kilpatrick’s offence was off the ball, but it happened close to the sideline and it was evidently spotted by the linesman. Tyrone were five points clear at the time and had no trouble managing the rest of the game, but it was Kilpatrick’s second red card of the year which means that he will incur a two-match suspension at the most critical time of the season.

Cork were forced to start without Brian Hurley, their captain and top scorer, and there is no guarantee that his hamstring injury will clear up in time for next weekend. In his absence Chris Óg Jones was terrific, in the first half especially, and had kicked four points from play before he was black carded, eight minutes into the second half.

It was the pivotal moment in the match. Having forced yet another turnover Cork broke quickly from defence, with a handy overlap to conjure with. But instead of putting the ball through the hands Seán Powter attempted a 30-metre pass to Jones, that was intercepted by the outstanding Niall Morgan. In his frustration Jones tripped the Tyrone goalkeeper.

The game was level when Jones left the field and Tyrone were four points clear when he returned. Ben Cullen scored Tyrone’s goal after a slick interchange of passes and a cute finish that really shouldn’t have caused Chris Kelly such bewilderment in the Cork goal.

Darragh Canavan had been on the back foot against Daniel O’Mahony for much of the first half. But he came alive in the second half and finished the game with five points, at least two of which were probably beyond the wit or proficiency of anybody else on the field.

Tyrone's Michael McKernan scores a point during the game against Cork in Tullamore. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Cork will rue their inefficiency. They led by just a point at the break, 0-10 to 0-9, having created more chances than Tyrone and enjoyed more possession. In contrast, Tyrone were patient in their build-up play and cold in their finishing. They didn’t kick their first wide until the 16th minute, and went 23 minutes in the second half without missing. Their overall conversion rate was a superb 79 per cent while Cork were stuck on 50 per cent, a destructive number.

Cork’s most consequential miss came just after half-time when Tommy Walsh and his cousin Paul carved open the Tyrone defence only for Paul’s shot to screw wide. Mattie Donnelly pushed him at the last second, which was just enough contact to interfere with the shot but subtle enough to evade the referee’s attention.

Brian Dooher remarked afterwards that Tyrone had been passive in their tackling in the first; they had plenty of players in defensive positions but nobody was getting their “hands on”.

Once that was corrected Tyrone raised their intensity in the second half and cut out the turnovers that had energised Cork. After they went in front they controlled the tempo of the game and Cork had no answer.

TYRONE: N Morgan (0-3, 0-1f, 0-1 45); M McKernan (0-1), P Hampsey, A Clarke; B Cullen (1-0), M Donnelly, N Devlin (0-1); B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick (0-1); C Daly, R Canavan (0-2), M O’Neill (0-1); D McCurry (0-3, 0-1f), D Canavan (0-5, 0-1f), S O’Donnell (0-1). Subs: P Harte for O’Neill (h-t); C McShane for R Canavan (64 mins); S O’Hare for O’Donnell (67); C Quinn for Cullen (69); T Quinn for D Canavan (70+3).

CORK: C Kelly; K Flahive, D O’Mahony, M Shanley; R Maguire, T Walsh, M Taylor; I Maguire, C O’Callaghan; P Walsh, S Powter, B O’Driscoll (0-2), M Cronin (0-3); C Óg Jones (0-4), S Sherlock (0-8, 0-6f). Subs: R Deane for Powter (50 mins); C Corbett for P Walsh (54); S Meehan for Flahive (66); C O’Mahony for Cronin (68); K O’Hanlon for O’Driscoll (70).

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon).

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times