Mattie Donnelly's moment of genius gives Tyrone a first Allianz Football League win
Allianz Football League Division One: Kildare 0-18 Tyrone 1-16
IT was a moment of genius from skipper Mattie Donnelly that Tyrone manager Mickey Harte reckons could prove particularly important at the end of this Allianz League campaign.
The clock had just moved into the 77th minute when Donnelly, with the scores tied for the eighth time in a tense contest, took off down the left wing and let fly off his left foot, splitting the posts.
It was an even better score than the one he’d nailed about 10 minutes earlier and ultimately settled an absorbing game in Tyrone’s favour.
Kildare, who started the day rock bottom of Division One alongside Tyrone after back-to-back defeats, probably deserved at least a draw.
But in his 16th season as Tyrone boss Harte knows by now that you make your own luck and his side produced a magic moment when it counted while Kildare simply didn’t.
Both Kevin Feely, Kildare’s exceptional midfielder who finished with nine points, and goalkeeper Mark Donnellan failed to convert late frees that would have rescued at least a draw for the hosts.
And with opportunity knocking, Tyrone duly responded with a strong finale, outscoring Kildare by 0-3 to 0-1 in the last 12 minutes of the game to finally pick up a win.
How important the two points prove to be at the end of the campaign remains to be seen but Harte reckons they could be significant.
“If you didn’t win there today, you’re three-and-nought, not a great place to be,” observed the three-time All-Ireland-winning manager.
“Two-and-one still doesn’t leave you out of the woods by any means but at least there’s a wee bit of optimism there. You’ve the possibility to stay away from the very bottom.
“That last point of Mattie Donnelly’s was priceless in terms of league points.
“It’s a battle all the way in this division and you look at the teams you have to play, you definitely couldn’t say, ‘They are easy games coming up’. Monaghan, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, so if we don’t get points on the board now, the ones coming up certainly aren’t any easier.
“It gives us that bit of confidence now to believe that we can pick up a couple more points.”
Tyrone had nine different scorers on the day, including Lee Brennan who struck the game’s only goal, in a tally of 1-3, after 29 minutes.
“It’s a decent score to put up, 1-16, but it’s also a big score we shipped,” said Harte.
“We’d love to put up that score and concede less. It was probably more open than we would have liked. I’m sure Kildare would say the same thing, they’d have liked it a bit tighter at the back too.
“They’re a decent side, they’ve good footballers, they’ve a great fight in them. That’s bad luck on them to lose two weeks in-a-row now by one point. They could be sitting on four points as easily as none.”
Kildare’s strong start, when they surged 0-4 to 0-0 ahead, forced Tyrone to play a little more offensively and it opened out into an entertaining contest.
Kildare, with Feely pulling the strings around midfield and giving an exhibition of high fielding, quality distribution and free-taking, retained that four-point lead at 0-8 to 0-4.
Brennan’s goal, a poacher’s finish after a long ball across from the right wing by Cathal McShane, hauled Tyrone level for the first time.
And Niall Sludden’s third point of the half edged the visitors 1-8 to 0-10 ahead at the interval.
Neither side was going to run away with this one, though, and a Niall Kelly score for Kildare after the restart tied it up again, setting in train a tit-for-tat encounter that went right to the wire.
Kildare had the majority of possession in the second-half and drew a series of frees that International Rules star Feely expertly converted, four-in-a-row at one stage.
Tyrone had plenty of opportunities too and punished Kildare on the counter-attack with eye-catching points from Padraig McNulty, McShane and Darren McCurry, though eight second-half wides undermined their challenge.
Cian O’Donoghue’s 56th minute point for Kildare left them 0-17 to 1-13 up and it remained that way until the 65th minute when Donnelly hit the first of his two late scores.
McShane and Feely swapped points to leave the scores tied entering the 77th minute, 0-18 to 1-15.
A stalemate seemed a certainty until Tyrone worked possession out to Donnelly on the left wing and he punted over what was the best score of the day, regardless of it also being the winner.