GAA Football

Classy Tyrone thump Derry and progress to the semi-finals

  Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh and Derry’s Niall Holly challenge for a high ball during yesterday’s Ulster SFC quarter-final at Celtic Park
Picture by Colm O’Reilly
Neil Loughran at Celtic Park

Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Derry 0-12 Tyrone 3-14

AFTER weeks of talk about tactics, personnel and the expectation of blood and thunder in this most bitter of rivalries, yesterday’s Ulster Championship grudge match ended up being as wet as the Derry weather as a first half Tyrone goal blitz put paid to Oak Leaf ambitions.

Derry finished the game with 13 men after Ciaran McFaul – two yellows – and a straight red for Chrissy McKaigue in the second half, but by that stage it made little difference as Tyrone were cruising towards the finish line.

A Ronan O’Neill double and a superbly-worked major from Peter Harte three minutes into first half injury-time did the damage for the Red Hands as they went into the break 11 points to the good – and they ended the game with the same winning margin.

These two counties may have played in the same division during the National League, but the difference between them was brutally exposed Mickey Harte’s men really started to get a grip on proceedings.

The Tyrone running game, so effective as Derry were cast aside in Omagh during the League, wasn’t quite in full flow – mostly because of the rain tipping down on to the Celtic Park sod – but they showed they are no one-trick pony as they got plenty of joy going long into Ronan O’Neill and Sean Cavanagh.

Indeed, O’Neill’s first goal was as route one as it gets. Trailing to James Kielt’s fourth minute free, Richard Donnelly launched a high left-footed ball towards the square and Oisin Duffy suddenly found himself all alone against the in-form Omagh forward.

With a nonchalant shimmy, O’Neill left Duffy and Derry goalkeeper Thomas Mallon reaching for thin air while the Red Hand ace gleefully accepted the opportunity to fire into an empty net.

In fairness to Derry, that goal didn’t knock their confidence in the early stages.

Danny Heavron, off the outside of the right boot, Mark Lynch and two more from Kielt helped them claw back further Red Hand scores from Sean Cavanagh, Cathal McShane and two from the deadly O’Neill.

Only a point separated them after 16 minutes, 0-5 to 1-3 for Tyrone, and with the crowd roused by a brief schemozzle five minutes in, there was some hope that an upset could be on the cards. But how quickly that hope died.

Damian Barton’s side failed to get on the scoresheet for 20 minutes, until Karl McKaigue’s 37th minute effort, and goals from O’Neill and Harte just before the whistle were daggers to Derry’s heart.

O’Neill’s second came after 20 minutes, with the inspirational Sean Cavanagh the architect. Mattie Donnelly pumped a long ball into the square, Cavanagh again exploited an exposed Derry back line by holding off Brendan Rogers, before managing to get a shot away while slipping to the ground.

Mallon did well to block the Moy man’s effort and just as Cavanagh was about to have a second bite at the cherry, the livewire O’Neill rushed in to bury the ball into the net.

Points from Mattie Donnelly, two from the tireless Connor McAliskey within the space of two minutes around the half hour mark, and substitute Darren McCurry extended the Tyrone lead before Harte applied the coup de grace in added time.

The Errigal Ciaran man, playing in a more defensive role than against Cavan in last month’s Division Two final, drifted forward from 
wing-back, exchanged passes with first Sean, then Colm Cavanagh before slotting home.

It was as simple as you like.

Talk of a comeback was the last thing on Derry supporters’ minds as they trailed by 11 at the break, with fear of an even bigger hiding to come.

But the Oak Leafs came out of the blocks not so much like men possessed, but like a team who had been told a few home truths in the changing room at half-time.

Almost from the throw-in Kielt was played in by substitute Ryan Bell – who performed admirably – but the slippery conditions saw the ball just get away from the big Kilrea man as he closed in on Mickey O’Neill’s goal.

A minute later Cailean O’Boyle, brought on at half-time for Shane Heavron, dragged a low shot just wide after Dermot McBride’s deft touch left him in space.

Yet, despite those early goal chances, it was Tyrone who still displayed the more clinical edge, going straight up the field to score the first point of the half,

McCurry slotting over with his right foot.

That was the difference and, after that initial burst of energy, the game was effectively up. They closed the gap to eight at one stage, but a heroic comeback was never on the cards – especially when McFaul picked up a silly second yellow for sliding into Tiernan McCann well inside the Tyrone half.

Red Hand substitute Padraig McNulty scored the point of the second half when he slotted over after superb work from Niall Sludden and Sean Cavanagh, and he almost scored the Red Hands’ fourth goal of the day to cap a superb Championship bow.

Holding on to McAliskey’s raking long ball, Mallon had to be at his best to deny the Dungannon man.

McCurry kept the scoreboard ticking over in a second half as Tyrone kept Derry at arm’s length, and McKaigue’s 68th minute sending off after a coming together with Colm Cavanagh was a sad end to a sorry day for the Oak Leafers.

They head into the Qualifiers with plenty of work to do, while Cavan and Armagh will have watched with interest as the Red Hands rumbled ominously, and at times effortlessly, towards a semi-final spot.

Why did Derry not player a sweeper? Tyrone’s first two goals came as a result of long balls into the Derry defence where defenders found themselves one-on-one against Tyrone attackers. For the first, Oisin Duffy was all alone against Ronan O’Neill while for O’Neill’s second, Sean Cavanagh got the better of an isolated Brendan Rogers before the loose ball fell to the Omagh man. At the other end, Colm Cavanagh provided a perfect shield for the Red Hand defence. Derry needed someone to do the same

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