Down and Tyrone produce controversy and a thriller

Visitors just seconds from victory before Seán Cavanagh’s free

If, as we assume, the Ulster Championship is the whole kit and caboodle when it comes to what the football summer has to offer this side of July, it's going to be hard to find fault as long as this is what's served up.

A rollicking old championship afternoon in Omagh that ended with honours even between Tyrone and Down, 2-11 to 3-8. An avalanche of goals, a crossword puzzle of black cards given and not given, both sides trooping off downcast at the end having left it behind them. It'll do for starters.

Tyrone should have won this and they should have lost it. Down likewise. It’s an old truism of graver times up north that nobody has a monopoly on grief. Same goes here.

What was worse? For Tyrone to cough up a seven-point lead in the closing 20 minutes after Darren McCurry’s goal had them set fair? Or for Down to be two up going into injury time with Donal O’Hare standing over a regulation 20-metre free and still not get it done? Let’s just agree that nobody went home delighted with themselves.


Maybe David Coldrick least of all. On this, the GAA's first televised game of the summer, the last thing anyone needed was a black card controversy. Specifically, the exact type of black card controversy that every naysayer predicted would come to pass. Yet that was what we got.

Two penalties awarded, one to each side. Both of which were black card offences but only one of which saw Coldrick produce the book. Conor Maginn wrapped his arms around Mark Donnelly as the Tyrone wing-forward finished to the net in the 25th minute yet the penalty was reckoned to be punishment enough. No advantage, no black card.

Three minutes into the second half, Down substitute Jerome Johnston was through on goal when Niall Morgan scythed him down with a trip. This time, the penalty duly came with a black card on top. It was definitely worthy of the punishment but no more worthy than Maginn's had been.

Salted the wound
The fact that Maginn went on to score Down's third goal fairly salted the wound. Suffice to say, Mickey Harte was not amused.

“It’s difficult to understand what set of rules was played to today – they weren’t the rules we played the National League to. So you know, someone needs to tell us here what’s going on because the rules that were applied today did not remotely resemble the rules we played to in the National League and McKenna Cup.”

Which rules exactly?

“Well, the advantage. Were there many advantages accrued there today? And were there opportunities to give an advantage? I think there were several. So is it in or is it not? Tell us one way or the other and if it’s in play, fine. And if it’s not and we have what we had today, then at least we know that.”

Harte had a point. Apart from Donnelly's goal, there was an incident late on when Kyle Coney was fouled in the act of going for a point but the subsequent wide wasn't called back for a free.

Still, there was more to the day than black cards. Tyrone looked in decent nick at times and their second goal especially was a work of beauty, a length of the pitch affair before McCurry picked his spot. It put them seven ahead and should have seen them home.

Down comeback
But Down's ability to confound is positively Lady Gagan in scope. Not only were they not gone, they were actually ahead just six minutes later despite barely having raised a gallop all afternoon. First O'Hare and then Maginn plundered goals on the back of intelligent probing from Conor Laverty. And then Laverty, Mark Poland and Benny Coulter kicked them into a two-point lead.

Tyrone were jelly-legged now and all it needed was one more jab from Down and they were sunk. But O’Hare chose precisely the wrong moment to get the shakes. He missed a simple free and Tyrone were left breathing with four minutes of injury time to play.

Enough time for Seán Cavanagh to be fouled twice and to ice the free both times. Enough too for Maginn to finally get the black card he should have had long before. And enough for Coldrick to call it a draw and send everyone to Newry next Saturday.

The Ulster Championship. How did we ever doubt it?