Tyrone oust Fermanagh in search of sixth successive Dr McKenna title
Dr McKenna Cup semi-final: Tyrone 0-14 Fermanagh 0-11
FOR both Tyrone and Fermanagh, it was the same old story. The Red Hands roll on to an eighth Dr McKenna Cup final in-a-row, the search for a sixth title in succession alive and well.
For Fermanagh, another game against a top county, another defeat. For Pete McGrath, that bid for a breakthrough, even in the McKenna Cup, rumbles on.
Two weeks ago, just a point separated the Ernemen and Monaghan. Yesterday it was three but, by McGrath’s own admission, there was a “gulf in class” as Tyrone took control in the 10 minute periods either side of half-time.
At one point after the break they led by six and looked to be coasting, but Fermanagh showed some spirit to come back into the game late on, two superb long-range frees from substitute Sean Quigley enough to temporarily warm the souls
of the Erne faithful.
Ultimately, though, it was too little, too late. Tyrone go on to meet Derry in a repeat of the 2016 decider and while Mickey Harte was happy to be back in the final, he wasn’t overly pleased with his team’s performance.
“We messed up a few attacks when we had maybe a five- or six-point lead, one or two more points would have left it a much more comfortable game for us,” said the Ballygawley man ruefully.
“We didn’t get those scores and Fermanagh didn’t give up by any means. They fought to the bitter end and they were good value for how competitive they made the game.
“I’m just glad we had enough scores to keep ourselves ahead of the game there because as the game wore on they were picking off a point at a time to close the gap and make it more dangerous.”
It was Fermanagh who came out full of intent in the opening quarter-of-an-hour.
Eddie Courtney gave Ronan McNamee the slip before firing over to open the scoring and Tomas Corrigan doubled their advantage from a free out on the left after being tripped by Cathal McCarron.
In between those two scores, Eoin Donnelly had the Clones crowd holding its breath as he waltzed through the Tyrone rearguard without a glove laid on him, the Red Hands’ red faces spared when Peter Harte dived low to block the Coa man’s goalbound shot.
And Harte had a hand in Tyrone’s revival, bursting forward before laying off for McCurry to slot over from a narrow angle, before Niall McKenna made it two points apiece with an excellent score from wide on the right.
Another Corrigan free after Colm Cavanagh clumsily felled Mickey Jones gave Fermanagh the advantage again after 16 minutes, but Pete McGrath’s side would trouble the scoreboard just once more in the remainder of the half as Tyrone assumed control.
McCurry profited from good work by Lee Brennan and Colm Cavanagh to level it up before a Harte free from just inside the 20-metre line gave the Red Hands the lead for the first time 22 minutes in. The Ernemen were looking ragged and two more handy Harte frees gave Tyrone a 0-6 to 0-3 lead.
The latter came after Lee Cullen collided with Colm Cavanagh as the Moy man stooped down to retrieve the ball. A hush descended on St Tiernach’s Park as Cavanagh was treated, soon to be replaced with a roar from the stand as his brother Sean galloped on to the sod for his first appearance of 2017.
Despite that raucous welcome, the older sibling was only on the field for eight minutes, managing to pick up a yellow card in the process before Colm came back out for the second half with Tyrone three points to the good following Harte’s late free. The influential Harte was withdrawn at the break, leaving Darren McCurry to provide the spark as Tyrone extended their lead.
Three points in four minutes from the Edendork man put Tyrone 0-10 to 0-5 ahead before a lovely Paul McCusker strike closed the gap, only for Brennan and Cathal McShane to put Harte’s men back in command.
Quigley’s introduction after 52 minutes certainly brought the Fermanagh followers to life and his two effortlessly struck frees from distance were the pick of an underwhelming close to the game, though Aiden Breen also scored a beauty from play that just dropped over the bar.
A mixture of poor tackling and poor calls from referee Noel Mooney saw Tyrone keep the scoreboard ticking over from placed balls as they held on to seal a Saturday night date with their rivals from across the Sperrins.
“It is going to be competitive again,” said the Tyrone boss.
“Derry and their supporters are coming from a place where there is a lot of talk about their players leaving them, discontent and turmoil and all this here, but I don’t see much of that going on now.
“Damian Barton seems to have a bunch of players who want to play for Derry and they are stating that clearly. They are playing for the jersey too and I think it is going to make for a very competitive final.”
For McGrath and Fermanagh, the focus turns to their Division Two opener against his native Down at Pairc Esler at the start of February.
Lessons have been learned from the Dr McKenna Cup, and some harsh ones were picked up against the Ulster champions yesterday.
“There was a chunk of the game in both halves when we let Tyrone dominate and dictate,” said the Erne boss.
“We made it relatively easy for them with some of the mistakes we made, giving the ball away, needless fouling, in some cases us being turned over rather easily, and Tyrone punished us. Now, in fairness, if you look at the last 10 or 12 minutes of the game and we got it back to three points, you give the team credit for that.
“But, over the 70 minutes, there was quite a gulf in class there.”
Clearly frustrated by the performance of the man in the middle, McGrath added: “The referee was poor.
“It was much easier to get a free at one end of the field than the other. Some of the frees Tyrone were awarded I felt were highly dubious, I thought there were times when we were maybe having the same type of tackles inflicted on us and the referee wasn’t interested, but I’ll say no more about that.
“The referee didn’t beat us today, but maybe he didn’t help.”
Tyrone: M O’Neill; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, T McCann, P Harte (0-4, frees); C Cavanagh, P McNulty; D McClure, N Sludden, N McKenna (0-1); D McCurry (0-6, 0-3 frees), C McShane (0-1), L Brennan (0-1). Substitutes: S Cavanagh for C Cavanagh (31), C Cavanagh for S Cavanagh (HT), P Hampsey for A McCrory (HT), M Donnelly for P Harte (h-t), M Bradley (0-1) for N McKenna (45), C Meyler for C Cavanagh (49), R O’Neill for L Brennan (60), C McCullagh for N Sludden (68) Yellow cards: P Harte (24), S Cavanagh (35), R McNabb (70)
Fermanagh: T Tracey; M Jones, C Cullen, C McManus; D McCusker, R McCluskey, P Reihill; L Cullen, E Donnelly; P McCusker (0-1), J McMahon, A Breen (0-1); B Mulrone, E Courtney (0-1), T Corrigan (0-6, frees). Substitutes: D Keenan for J McMahon (h-t), J McMahon for R McCluskey (45), C Beacom for P Reihill (50), S Quigley (0-2 frees) for E Courtney (52), T McCaffrey for B Mulrone (57) Yellow card: M Jones (26)
Referee: N Mooney (Cavan)