Tyrone wrap up unbeaten campaign with perfect prize

Mickey Harte’s men see off Cavan in all-Ulster Division Two decider

Tyrone 1-17 Cavan 0-15

They say freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, and Tyrone won this game with exactly that in mind. Division Two finals tend to be that way, the ultimate prize of promotion already won.

With it Tyrone wrapped up their unbeaten run through the Allianz Football League with a pretty little ribbon and bow, knowing full well there are far bigger presents on offer this year, which they fully intend on going after.

Team captain Seán Cavanagh admitted as much immediately afterwards, reminding the Tyrone supporters of that fast approaching Ulster football championship date with Derry in Celtic Park, just four weeks away.


The feeling beforehand was Cavan possibly needed victory here more than Tyrone, but then again they had nothing left to lose either. Getting to play Division One football next season was perhaps a big enough present for now, and part of this experience was simply the experience of being in Croke Park.

Indeed both teams played with a freedom of expression that befits a Division Two final, an air of openness about the football not likely to be seen in Croke Park for the rest of the year. Now is not the time to see players dying in their boots, or at least crippled by their efforts. The physicality was largely cosmetic, more hitting than smashing.

Tyrone’s five-point winning margin also flattered a little, although they certainly made their quality count when it mattered most, stepping up on their Ulster rivals in the second half. Ronan O’Neill’s goal on 48 minutes gave Tyrone the cushion they needed, and they sat on it comfortably after that. They played like a team perfecting that winning habit, even when they’d nothing to lose. Manager Mickey Harte pointed to that afterwards too, that a winning mentality is not something any team can just turn on and off.

David Givney did come close to getting a goal back for Cavan not long after O'Neill's goal, his thundering shot skimming the crossbar and going over a point instead – not that he was necessarily going for a goal. Had that gone in it might have made for a more hectic climax, and instead the game slowly reduced to fade in the time that remained.

Tyrone’s passing and pace was a little slicker throughout. Although the sides were level seven times in that opening 35 minutes, Tyrone still seemed a step or two in front, and went into the break three points clear, 0-11 to 0-8.

The best of their opening scores came from the excellent Tiernan McCann, who earned himself the man-of-the-match accolade for his ceaseless running on and off the ball. Ronan O'Neill finished with 1-3, while that first half saw a couple of brilliant one-twos from Peter Harte to Seán Cavanagh, with Cavanagh finishing both of those neatly between the posts.

Harte, a late replacement for Richard Donnelly, is back to his best, extremely comfortable on the ball, and poised it seems for a very big summer. Mattie Donnelly and Colm Cavanagh are also looking perfectly compatible at midfield, Donnelly finishing with 0-2 (although he did pick up a second yellow card on 66 minutes, the only blot on Tyrone’s copybook all day).

Amazingly, all of Cavan's eight first-half scorers came from eight different players – including goalkeeper Raymond Galligan, who hit a 45. Midfielders Tomás Corr and Liam Buchanan hit one each, as did Dara McVeety, Gearoid McKiernan, Martin Reilly and Michael Argue.

Cavan then finished up the half with a free from Seanie Johnston, on 32 minutes, it what was actually his first kick of the ball. Indeed Cavan manager Terry Hyland likened that first half to a tennis match, the point effectively going to the team with the serve.

It was advantage Tyrone going into the second half, as they went up 0-11 to 0-8. McKiernan reduced that margin to two points, and they went at each other point again, until O’Neill powered home Tyrone’s goal, brilliantly set up by Donnelly’s sweetly visionary pass. With the outcome effectively decided not long after, both teams emptied their benches, using all six replacements, although only Cavan’s Eugene Keating added to the scoreboard.

Seán Cavanagh finished with a captain’s contribution of 0-3 from play, signing off with a super point from just under the press box in the Hogan Stand. It was a clear signal of a player and his team intent on being back here later in the summer.

In the meantime there’s a good chance these teams will meet again in the Ulster semi-final, should Tyrone beat Derry and Cavan overcome Armagh, and if so then expect a game where both teams will be playing winner takes all, and everything to lose. Such is the difference between league and championship after all.

TYRONE: M O'Neill; A McCrory, J McMahon, C McCarron; R Brennan (0-1), R McNamee, T McCann (0-1); C Cavanagh, M Donnelly (0-2); N Sludden, M Bradley (0-1, free), P Harte (0-1); C McAliskey (0-5), S Cavanagh (capt) (0-3), R O'Neill (1-3, one free).

Subs: C Meyler for Sludden, B Tierney for McMahon (both 50 mins), R Donnelly for Bradley (56 mins), L Brennan for O'Neill (57 mins), K McGeary for McAliskey (61 mins), F Burns for McCarron (70 mins).

CAVAN: R Galligan (0-1, a 45); P Faulkner, K Clarke, J McLoughlin (0-1); C Brady, C Moynagh (0-1), K Brady; T Corr (0-1), L Buchanan (0-1); C McVeety (0-2), G McKiernan (capt) (0-3, one free), M Reilly (0-1); D Givney (0-1), M Argue (0-1), S Johnston (0-1, a free).

Subs: N Murray (for K Brady), E Keating (0-1) for Johnston (46 mins), C Mackey for Buchanan (48 mins, black card), R Dunne for Argue (53 mins), F Flanagan for C Brady (60 mins), J Brady for Moynagh (66 mins)

Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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