Tyrone move into top gear in talented show

 

Tyrone 1-24 Westmeath 3-8: The magical summer of 2004 is a distant memory in Westmeath this morning. Missing several key players, they were ripped asunder by a Tyrone team missing several key players, the difference being Mickey Harte was able to promote able replacements from a ridiculously deep well of talent.

Tyrone captain Brian Dooher cried off before the start with flu only for Enda McGinley to ease into his place at wing forward. Ryan Mellon was yellow carded before half-time but Owen Mulligan shone in his position in the second half. McGinley and Mulligan played scoring roles but it was superb performances from Stephen O'Neill, Michael Coleman and Seán Cavanagh that ensured victory.

However, an excellent afternoon of football was marred five minutes from time when an irate spectator in a Westmeath tracksuit top got within a yard of referee Marty Duffy until a Tyrone player pushed him away. The man was able to stomp back to his seat. The pitch intrusion occurred seconds after Westmeath selector Tomas Ó Flatharta became entangled with two Tyrone players on the sideline.

Westmeath trailed 1-12 to 0-3 at half-time but an almost-fit Martin Flanagan pilfered two goals and another from Dessie Dolan added some make-up to an ugly final scoreline.

"The lads now realise the pace they must have their game at by end of May if they want to live with the big boys," Westmeath manager Páidí Ó Sé admitted. "That's the clear message that was put out by Kerry in Tralee last Saturday and again today. That is the pace the serious teams are at and we are a little bit behind. Whether we can make that up in eight to nine weeks is sin scéal eile."

After just six minutes Westmeath folk in the 4,828 crowd began nervously eyeing the exit. Cavanagh took a McGinley pass, held off Derek Heavin, before piercing the top corner of the net. That put the gap at five points. O'Neill continued to bisect the uprights every couple of minutes until the break with Michael Coleman also adding points. Add a goal chance for Leo Meehan and a clear picture of Tyrone's opening half dominance becomes apparent.

At no point could Westmeath stymie their lighting-quick ability to turn defence into attack. Considering it's still only March and that so many players are absent, the levels Tyrone can conceivably reach must make every other manager wince.

Even yellow cards for fullback Chris Lawn and Mellon failed to upset the rhythm. In contrast, the same punishment for Westmeath's All-Star John Keane and the withdrawal of the uncomfortable looking Donal O'Donoghue after nine minutes had a horrendous effect on an already brittle defence.

"It was a good win," said Harte. "An excellent first half, I suppose, set us up. We were disappointed to concede two goals so quickly (after half-time) but the response to those goals was good as well. We got a few points against that which cut out the value of what Westmeath did."

Those early second-half goals got the home supports focus back on the game. First Flanagan made full use of a Heavin high ball into the square before Dolan broke free of Ryan McMenamin to blast to the net. Then came the response. Mulligan kicked a point, Cavanagh cut through the middle for another, then a brilliant effort from Coleman and an O'Neill special while falling - all in an exhilarating five minutes. Dolan and Martin Penrose swapped a brace of points thereafter and Flanagan racked up a further 1-1 but Tyrone hit back to post five more scores. O'Neill was involved again.

Tyrone will face a more stern test in Killarney next weekend. "Now, the way results have gone that's a very live match," said Harte.

WESTMEATH: G Connaughton; J Davitt, D O'Donoghue, J Keane; M Ennis, D Kilmartin, D Heavin; J Brennan, D O'Shaughnessy; P Tormey, J Fallon, C Galligan (0-1); Denis Glennon (0-1), M Flanagan (2-1), D Dolan (1-5, three frees). Subs: D McDermott for D O'Donoghue (10 mins), D Mitchell for D O'Shaughnessy (26 mins), A Lambden for J Keane (32 mins), David Glennon for P Tormey (half-time), D Duffy for J Fallon (44 mins), P Mulvihill for Denis Glennon (inju, 51 mins).

TYRONE: P McConnell; R McMenamin, C Lawn, S Sweeney; J McMahon, G Devlin, P Jordan; C Holmes, M Coleman (0-5); E McGinley (0-3), S Cavanagh (1-2), R Mellon; L Meenan (0-1), M Penrose (0-3), S O'Neill (0-9, five frees). Subs: P Donnelly for C Lawn (24 mins), O Mulligan (0-1) for R Mellon (half-time), B Robinson for P Jordan (32 mins).

YELLOW CARDS: C Lawn (23 mins), J Keane (32 mins), R Mellon (37 mins).

Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).