Tyrone double up as their thoughts turn to bigger prize

Substitute Ronan O’Neill grabs two goals as Harte’s men see off outclassed Down

Down’s Jerome Johnston with Cathal McCarron of Tyrone during the Ulster football final at Clones. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Down’s Jerome Johnston with Cathal McCarron of Tyrone during the Ulster football final at Clones. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Tyrone: 2-17 Down 0-15

Behold the Red Hands. It’s one thing celebrating back-to-back Ulster football titles for only the fourth time. It’s another thing to keep going back to the future when doing so. 

Because this end result – as did the means – felt as fresh and meaningful to Tyrone as when Mickey Harte delivered them his first title as manager back in 2003. 

It neatly bookends that achievement too, also won against Down – yet must read as a statement of what is to come as much as what has already past. 

It’s their sixth title under Harte, Tyrone’s 15th in all, only the manner of the execution was of a team only beginning to get a grip on the province, one which won’t easily be surrendered. That they are the best team in Ulster this season is beyond doubt; so too the realisation they may be opening a gap of their opposition. 

This one played out like a slow death in the heat of Clones, Tyrone gently squeezing the life out of their opponents before moving in for the kill. Few of the 31,912 scorched spectators could ever have doubted the result, and while Down offered reason to hope in the first half, that too was buried by the end. 

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh, the sole survivor from 2003, hinted as much in saying “our journey is not over yet,” and while Cavanagh has earmarked this as his last season, he could yet have plenty to say. 

As a team they’ve rarely looked as well-drilled and in sync; Peter Harte at his influential best in both ends of the field, and Mattie Donnelly hitting three from play, each one as good as the next. Pádraig Hampsey had set the trend early on and also finished with three, earning himself a man-of-the-match award, and Tiernan McCann getting his just reward of a point after another tireless performance. 

Two goals in the last 15 minutes of normal time from substitute Ronan O’Neill were the headline scores; his first was cutely set up by Donnelly, delivered express; O’Neill’s second was cutely finished, chipped over Michael Cunningham after the Down corner back was marked absent. 

O’Neill had replaced Mark Bradley, who played in excellent spurts, also chipped in two from play; Cavanagh himself did all he needed to do, his retirement on 50 minutes a simple indication his work was already done. It seemed like every Tyrone player had laid a hand on one score or another.

Different level 

They left in their wake a Down team who weren’t just outplayed or outlasted but in the end seemed a little out of their depth. They were still within touching distance at the break, just two points in arrears, but Tyrone raised their game to an entirely different level in the second half and at times it felt like even Down were simply looking on in awe. 

Seven minutes into the second half Down lost Kevin McKernan, their physical and spiritual leader, black-carded seven minutes for an off-the-ball body check on Sean Cavanagh, on the halfway line – and that sucked the last life from their game. 

Down had played with some spirit in the first half, but still without properly testing Tyrone. Minutes before the break they had their first and only open goal chance after Darren O’Hagan’s towering effort came back off the upright, was swept up by Jermone Johnston, who passed off perfectly to O’Hanlon, only for the latter to blaze his shot to the left shot too blaze left and wide. 

Tyrone may have been briefly shaken but in no way stirred; they came out and scored seven unanswered points in the second half, including one from midfielder Conall McCann. By the time Down got their first score of the half on 54 minutes, from Caolan Mooney, some of their supporters were eying up the side exits. 

Tyrone wore them ceaselessly out of the game, casual in their ruthlessness in the end. Connaire Harrison, unlike his heroics in the semi-final against Monaghan, was taken out of the game; so too to a large extent were Darragh O’Hanlon and CaolanMooney, their influence coming too little and too late. 

From early on Down were forced to shoot in the dark – or from distance – a long range effort from Shay Millar their only brief refrain; Harrison, the Johnston brothers, McKernan even, all struggling to get their hands on meaningful possession. Tyrone stretched on, and when Sean Cavanagh punched sensibly over the bar on 20 minutes it felt like Down’s fate was already written. 

Then a brief shift in gravity: Tyrone, a little more sluggish in defence, conceded the next three scores to Down – Niall Donnelly sending the first over from midfield, followed by an O’Hanlon free and a neat shot from Conor Maginn, deftly set up by Ryan Johnston. 

In that same 10-minute spell Tyrone shot three wides in succession, and dropped a fourth shot short. A blip in an otherwise commanding performance, one they will bring to Croke Park with that growing sense of going back to the future. 

Tyrone finished with 14 men, losing Cathal McCarron to a second yellow; it mattered nothing, by then their thoughts were tulrning towards fresh targets in Croke Pak.

TYRONE: 1 N Morgan; 2 A McCrory, 3 R McNamee, 3 C McCarron; 5 T McMann (0-1), 6 P Hampsey (0-3), 7 P Harte (0-2, one free); 8 C Cavanagh, 9 C McCann (0-1); 10 D Mulgrew (0-1), 11 N Sludden (0-1), 12 K McGeary; 13 Mark Bradley (0-2), 14  S Cavanagh (capt) (0-2, one free), Mattie Donnelly (0-3).

Subs: 21 D McClure for McGeargy (38+ mins, black card), 22 D McCurry for S Cavanagh (49 mins), 26 R O’Neill (2-0) for Mark Bradley (53 mins), 25 C Meyler for Mulgrew (55 mins), 24 C McShane for C McCann (59 mins), 17 L Brennan (0-1) for Sludden (65 mins)

DOWN: 1 M Cunningham (0-1, a free); 2 N McParland; 3 G McGovern, 4 D O’Hagan (capt); 5 D O’Hanlon (0-4, all frees), 6 C McGovern, 7 C Mooney (0-3); 8 K McKernan, 9 N Donnelly (0-1); 18 P Turley, 11 C Maginn (0-1), 12 S Millar (0-1); 13 J Johnston, 14 C Harrison, 15  R Johnston (0-2).

Subs: 10 J Murphy (0-1) for McKernan (42 minutes, black card), 17 D McKibbin (0-1) for Turley (46 mins), 20 D O’Hare for J Johnston (49 mins), 19 M Poland for Millar (55 mins), 25 A Carr for Donnelly (59 mins), 22 S Dornan for Maginn (61 mins)

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

MATCH STATS

Tyrone 2-17/ Down0-15

HALF-TIME

0-7/0-5 

WIDES

11/11 

FROM PLAY

2-15/0-11 

FREES CONCEDED

12/13 

YELLOW CARDS

3/4 

RED CARDS

1/0 

BLACK CARDS

1/1 

ATTENDANCE: 31,912

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