Tyrone squeeze the life out of Down to retain Ulster SFC

Mickey Harte lifts Anglo-Celt Cup for a sixth time as his side ultimately cruise to victory

Tyrone 2-17 Down 0-15

It played out like a slow death in the hot afternoon, Tyrone circling around their opponents before moving in for the kill and defending their Ulster football title for only the fourth time.

Not that any of the 31,912 scorched spectators in Clones could ever have doubted the result. Down had come with some hope and reason, but could never make them rhyme.

Tyrone also neatly bookended Mickey Harte’s sixth Ulster title as manager, first won here also against Down back in 2003. Only Tyrone weren’t looking back: this was a victory which appeared to carve out their future as much as their past.


Indeed, in lifting the Anglo-Celt Cup Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh, the sole survivor from that 2003 journey, suggested as much: “Our journey is not over yet,” he roared. “See you in Croker.”

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

Two goals in the last 10 minutes of normal time from substitute Ronan O’Neill were the headline scores, but it seemed like every Tyrone player had laid a hand on some score.

Influential best

Peter Harte was at his influential best, at both ends of the field, and Matthew Donnelly hit three from play, each one as good as the next. Padraig Hampsey had set the trend early on and also finished with three, and Tiernan McCann got his just reward for another tireless performance.

Down had played with some considerable spirit in the first half, but as the game wore on it played straight into the Red Hand. Seven minutes into the second half they 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 took the last life from their game.

It also leaves Down chasing an Ulster title that will now stretch beyond 23 years, but at no point - not with even the flash chance of a goal at the end of the first half - did this look like a game they were capable of winning.

Instead Tyrone wore them ceaselessly out of the game, casual in their ruthlessness in the end. That Down didn’t score in the second half until the 19th minute is only one reflection of that.

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 Caolan Mooney, their influence coming too little and too late.

Tyrone took control and never let Down get in front, five different scorers in the first half laying down the marker: two points from Hampsey, split by another from Harte, set them on their way; three points to one after seven minutes.

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, and even McKernan, 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; out of the proverbial nowhere it was a one-point game, 0-6 to 0-5.

Then came the first and only open goal chance of the half: 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 his shot too blaze left and wide. It could have been a game-changer; instead it merely postponed the inevitable.

It certainly tested Tyrone’s nerve: they lost Kieran McGeary to a black card moments later, then had a free overturned, although they did have the last word of the first half when Matthew Donnelly popped over their seventh point - all from play - leaving it 0-7 to 0-5.

Tyrone finished with 14 men, losing Cathal McCarron to a second yellow; it mattered nothing, by then both feet on the road to Croke Pak, driving on, not looking back.

TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McMann (0-1), P Hampsey (0-3), P Harte (0-2, one free); C Cavanagh, C McCann (0-1); D Mulgrew (0-1), N Sludden (0-1), K McGeary; Mark Bradley (0-2), S Cavanagh (capt) (0-2, one free), Mattie Donnelly (0-3). Subs: D McClure for McGeargy (38+ mins, black card), D McCurry for S Cavanagh (49 mins), R O'Neill (2-0) for Mark Bradley (53 mins), C Meyler for Mulgrew (55 mins), C McShine for C McCann (59 mins), L Brennan (0-1) for Sludeen (65 mins)

DOWN: M Cunningham (0-1, a free); N McParland; G McGovern, D O'Hagan (capt); D O'Hanlon (0-4, all frees), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-3); K McKernan, N Donnelly (0-1); P Turley, C Maginn (0-1), S Millar (0-1); J Johnston, C Harrison, R Johnston (0-2). Subs: J Murphy (0-1)for McKernan (42 minutes, black card), D McKibbin (0-1) for Turley (46 mins), D O'Hare for J Johnston (49 mins), M Poland for Millar (55 mins), A Carr for Donnelly (59 mins), S Dornan for Maginn (60 mins)

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics