Tyrone 3-17 Armagh 0-8
If we can say one thing for certain, it’s that Tyrone are by a distance the best of what Ulster have to offer. Where that leaves them, the coming weeks will tell us. But for here and for now and very likely for next year’s Ulster campaign, they are all-conquering and untouchable.
They swatted Armagh aside here, running out with 18 points to spare in a game that was essentially settled in the first 15 minutes. They’ve mastered the art of the counter-attack game and when they play it against another side who are trying their hand at it, there’s only one outcome. What that means against the powerhouses of the south will be the making of the All-Ireland.
Armagh’s summer ended in a whimper. They set up with the same structure as Tyrone but hadn’t the players, the fitness or the tackling skills to make it sing. The pattern wasn’t so much established as chiselled into rock from early on. System v system, gang v gang, everyone back to their corner and go again.
When two massed defences come face to face, it comes down to who can best disrupt the opposition kick-out, who can tackle hardest and break quickest. On all counts, Tyrone were a far more mature proposition than Armagh.
Tyrone got their business boxed off early here. For the opening quarter-hour, they took pure delight in snuffing out any Armagh attempt at advancement. It was spiderweb stuff, snare and destroy with extreme prejudice. They skittled any residual confidence the young Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes had carried with him from last weekend and ate his kick-outs whole. And when they saw the posts, they split them.
Colm Cavanagh nailed a picture-book effort after 54 seconds, Mark Bradley jinked and jived for a couple of his own back-to-back points in the fifth and sixth minutes. Peter Harte was bustling around in his own peculiar way and when he was fouled close in on 13 minutes, Seán Cavanagh iced the free. Tiernan McCann steered a purring effort with the outside of his boot from the 45 soon after.
And when the elder Cavanagh nipped in to intercept the kick-out following McCann’s point, Tyrone could sense blood in the water. Harte was onto it in a flash and his astute inside pass to Bradley had the Armagh defence scrambling.
But as soon as they appeared to have him covered, corner back James Hughes made a rash tackle and David Gough signalled for a penalty. Harte pinged it into the corner and that was that, Tyrone 1-5 Armagh 0-0. Anything else you need to know?
Armagh had to shake themselves and in fairness, they outscored Tyrone 0-4 to 0-3 from there to half-time. It didn't matter in the great scheme of things but at least it was something to take home with them. Mark Shields and Gavin McParland knocked over fine scores from play, Rory Grugan and Niall Grimley chipped a free apiece. That said, all it bought them was a 1-8 to 0-4 deficit at the break.
Any notions they had of making more of it after the restart were knocked out of them in short order. They made a couple of chances but Oisín O'Neill and Stefan Campbell hooked them both wide. Niall Morgan came forward and launched a long free for Tyrone, Bradley slipped in for his third of the day. With 46 minutes on the clock, they were nine points ahead and there was nothing more to see.
Tyrone ran the bench and were diluted not one bit. David Mulgrew came on and stuck away 2-1. Colm Cavanagh limped off after taking a huge hit from Brendan Donaghy – he won't have thanked Peter Harte for the hospital pass - but Justin McMahon was a more than able replacement. Tyrone were relentless and Armagh had nothing in reply.
Jamie Clarke managed to wriggle from for a solitary point, Paul Hughes landed a potshot as the clock ran dead. But they were fundamentally unable to put up a challenge, either when the game was in the melting pot or when it wasn't. Tyrone were in party mode long before the end.
TYRONE: 1 Niall Morgan (0-2, frees); 2 Aidan McCrory, 3 Ronan McNamee, 4 Cathal McCarron; 5 Tiernan McCann (0-1), 6 Pádraig Hampsey, 9 Conall McCann; 8 Colm Cavanagh (0-1), 22 Declan McClure (0-1); 11 Niall Sludden, 7 Peter Harte (1-2, goal penalty), 15 Matthew Donnelly (0-1); 13 Mark Bradley (0-3), 14 Seán Cavanagh (capt; 0-4, three frees), 12 Kieran McGarry.
Subs: 10 David Mulgrew (2-1) for C McCann (44 mins), 23 Darren McCurry (0-1) for McGeary (44 mins), 18 Rory Brennan for McCrory (51 mins), 26 Ronan O'Neill for Bradley (51 mins), 21 Richard Donnelly for McClure (58 mins), 24 Justin McMahon for C Cavanagh (59 mins).
ARMAGH: 1 Blaine Hughes; 2 James Morgan, 3 Charlie Vernon, 4 Paul Hughes (0-1); 5 Brendan Donaghy, 6 Mark Shields (0-1), 7 Joe McElroy; 8 Stephen Sheridan, 9 Niall Grimley (0-1, free); 10 Rory Grugan (capt; 0-3, two frees), 11 Ciaran O'Hanlon, 12 Aidan Forker; 13 Jamie Clarke (0-1), 14 Gavin McParland (0-1), 15 Stefan Campbell.
Subs: 17 Oisín O'Neill for O'Hanlon (30 mins), 24 Anthony Duffy for Shields (black card, 32 mins), 23 Ethan Rafferty for Campbell (46 mins), 22 Ben Crealey for McParland (51 mins), 19 Ciarán McKeever for Grimley (56 mins), 21 Darren McKenna for Sheridan (black card, 59 mins)
Referee: David Gough (Meath).