Tyrone make heavy weather of shaking off Cavan
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round Three: Cavan 1-12 Tyrone 0-18
IT was heavy weather of the alternative kind, and that’s what Tyrone made of it.
The last time they were in Brewster Park for a McKenna Cup game in January, you could have cut turf out of the ground. This time the sod was pristine, the bounce true, the sun interminably high in the flawless cover of blue.
At times, Tyrone were at their best. There was an energy about both defence and attack. Turnover, break. Turnover, break. Turnover, break. That was the pattern of the opening half and the four point margin at the break flattered Cavan.
Once the game settled, the ‘home’ side started to get swallowed up. By the half hour, their supporters were audibly groaning as they recycled the ball 30 yards backwards into their own half. And each time they did it, it seemed to only be delaying the inevitable spluttering up of possession.
They were carried in that half by the gargantuan display of the game’s best player Gearoid McKiernan, which only increased in magnitude after the interval, and the bounce of the exonerated Dara McVeety.
There was a multitude of men in white that performed. Peter Harte was sharp as a butcher’s blade. Mattie Donnelly was strong, Padraig Hampsey likewise. Niall Sludden was Niall Sludden, and Cathal McShane gave it plenty.
They slipped 0-4 to 0-1 ahead inside 10 minutes, with Mattie Donnelly opening the account after 12 seconds. The highlight of that spell was a brilliant Mickey O’Neill kickout that put Niall Sludden away some 70 metres up the field, leading to a pointed free for Peter Harte.
It’s hard to say that Tyrone ever really went flat in the first half. They kept going full out pressing the Cavan kickout, but that was undermined by their inability to lay a hand on McKiernan in the air.
The Red Hands kept committing men on the break, kept penetrating, but they were too fidgety in the red zone to collect the return they should have.
And that kept Cavan in it. Dara McVeety scored out of nothing and set up Gearoid McKiernan for another either side of a powerful burst from Killian Clarke that led to him clipping over from a tight angle.
Parity gave Mattie McGleenan’s side a spark but beyond the opening spell, when they found their inside men with relative ease, they still could make no real attacking headway, while Tiernan McCann was able to flick the booster switch and power through a wall of blue to flick one over.
Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly hit the final scores of a half that ended 0-9 to 0-5. Little about it suggested that the 6,000-odd out enjoying the rays would get the entertainment they did thereafter.
Every groan that was elicited by the manner of the first half fluttered away into the suffocating air as Cavan threatened to take aim once Tyrone bared their Achilles Heel once more.
Connor McAliskey, superbly shackled by Fergal Reilly throughout, should have had a goal when Richie Donnelly dinked a delightful ball over the top for him. Credit to James Farrelly, who stood his ground to force McAliskey back on to his left, at which stage Killian Brady shot across to get his body in front of the open goal.
That would have made it 1-10 to 0-5 and the game would have been dead there and then, 39 minutes in. Five minutes later, Cavan were level.
They’d gone 31 minutes without being awarded a single free by referee David Coldrick, who had a good game, and it was another nine before McKiernan slotted over their first score from a dead ball after Niall Murray was fouled.
That left four in it and then Tyrone paid for the sloppiness. Conor Meyler played the kind of loose pass that got them nailed in Croke Park against Dublin last year, and Cavan came back down the right wing. Conor Bradley’s shot dropped short and Mickey O’Neill will be disappointed that the overlapping Martin Reilly outsprung him to palm home. Mickey Harte will be disappointed that Reilly was all on his own.
Then McKiernan scored one of the points of the year, climbing halfway to heaven to gather the kickout, popping it off and going for the return before lashing it over from right on the 45.
Just like that, they were glued back together on the scoreboard, 1-7 to 0-10. Cavan, just as against Down, had hardly done enough to merit that position, but from there it was anybody’s.
Twice more they were level in the next ten minutes, Seanie Johnston dropping over a fine effort from the wrong side after Meyler had again surrendered possession in attack.
But the Omagh man made amends in the final 15 minutes, not least when he took off down the middle after robbing the ball inside his own 45. He fed Frank Burns but, with two men square, the Pomeroy man saw his shot deflected over by Fergal Reilly when the green flag was itching to be lifted once more.
Still, it came in the middle of four Tyrone scores in a row after Conor Moynagh had levelled it again at 1-10 to 0-13. Ronan O’Neill had a telling impact off the bench, hitting three points, while Niall Sludden’s Duracell outlasted the rest as he kicked two late scores while still motoring at the same pace as he started.
Three points was the narrowest it got again, although Dara McVeety had a chance to cut it to two when the jitters really started to hit Tyrone. They clammed up and became nervous around their own goal, taking wrong options all over the shop to give Cavan enough vigour that it stayed a constant until the end.
A second booking for arguably their outstanding player of the season, Ciarán Brady, after a tangle with Cathal McCarron looked harsh on the Arva man, and it sucked the juice from Cavan in stoppage time.
They hardly touched the ball after that, with Mattie Donnelly the cool head that dictated how stoppage time would play out, and that it would end with Tyrone in round four.
In less sticky conditions, they could have been out the gate at half-time. There was, at times, a slickness about their running game seldom seen since they blitzed Armagh in Croke Park last year. Other times, there was a nervousness and that lack of ruthlessness that keeps rearing its head.
The longer it sticks around, the shorter Tyrone’s summer will be.
Tyrone: M O’Neill; M McKernan, R McNamee; T McCann (0-2), F Burns (0-2), M Donnelly (0-2), P Hampsey; C Cavanagh, D McClure, C McShane (0-2); N Sludden (0-3), P Harte (0-2f), C Meyler; R Donnelly (0-1), C McAliskey (0-1f)
Subs: R O’Neill (0-3, 0-1f) for McAliskey (43), K McGeary for McShane (54), H Loughran for McClure (64), C McCarron for McKernan (67), C McCann for Meyler (70), R Brennan for Sludden (73)
Yellow cards: C Cavanagh (42), C McCarron (70)
Cavan: J Farrelly; K Brady, E Flanagan, F Reilly; N Murray, C Moynagh (0-1), C Brady (0-1), M Reilly (1-0); G McKiernan (0-5, 0-2f), K Clarke (0-1); O Kiernan (0-1), S Johnston (0-1), C Mackey; D McVeety (0-2), C Bradley
Subs: S McCormack for Clarke (35), A Cole for Mackey (HT), P Faulkner for Murray (43), J McLoughlin for Flanagan (43), C Mackey for K Brady (62), C O’Reilly for Johnston (62)
Yellow cards: C Moynagh (16), C Brady (36, 70), C Mackey (65), P Faulkner (68)
Red card: C Brady (second yellow, 70)
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)
Attendance: 6,000 (est)
Tyrone player ratings
Mickey O’Neill: Magnificent long kick to set Niall Sludden away early on. Uncertain second half. Shouldn’t have been beaten on the goal, and was notably nervy from kickouts and in open play thereafter. 5.5
Padraig Hampsey: Had a strong game manning several different positions. Restricted Killian Clarke well early on. Was a constant presence in the middle third on breaking ball. 7.5
Ronan McNamee: Solid display from the Aghyaran man, keeping Conor Bradley and Adrian Cole both scoreless. Dealt well with a tricky high ball late on. 6.5
Michael McKernan: Had a tough opening 20 minutes against Dara McVeety, who carried the Cavan attack in that spell, but McKernan settled and was comfortable in the second half. 6.5
Tiernan McCann: Looked much more like himself. Offered a searing pace at times in the Tyrone attack and linked the play well. Two fine scores. 7
Mattie Donnelly: Dictated so much of what Tyrone did in a commanding display. Carried the ball superbly out of defence at times. Set the pace late on. 7.5
Frank Burns: Spent much of the day alternating between a free role and picking up Oisin Kiernan. Solid defensively. Got forward well and kicked two points, but should have squared his goal chance. 6.5
Conor Meyler: A real mixed bag. His energy was boundless and he linked so much play, not least with a searing run to set up Burns’ goal chance. But gave away some sloppy passes, which cost his side 1-1 at a crucial stage. 6
Colm Cavanagh: Didn’t get across to enough of Cavan’s decent early supply to their inside forwards initially. Timely interception to deny Conor Bradley a goal chance. Had a good spell in midfield the early part of the second half, in which he was stronger throughout. 7
Declan McClure: Will be disappointed that he failed to negate Gearoid McKiernan more effectively than he did. Couldn’t get his hands on any ball in the air. 5
Niall Sludden: The standard display from the Dromore man. Finished with 0-3 from play and a host of assists. Led their attack well in the spell when the game needed won. 8
Peter Harte: His best display for a while. Was very direct and carried at the heart of Cavan, committing men and drawing frees. 7.5
Cathal McShane: Another who had bits of good and bits of not so good. Worked hard in the middle third without an awful pile of joy, but his defensive work was good and got up to score twice. 7
Richie Donnelly: Didn’t make the ball stick as well as in the previous couple of games, but showed his ability with a beautiful pass to put McAliskey in on goal. Better second half. 6.5
Connor McAliskey: A day when it just didn’t happen for McAliskey. Nothing he tried came off, and he scored just once from a free. Should have had a goal early in the second half. 5
Ronan O’Neill: Made a significant impact, hitting three points, one of them a fine effort kicked blind off his left foot. 7
Kieran McGeary: A strong presence around the middle third but was caught napping a couple of times. 6.5
Harry Loughran: Saw very little ball. 6
Cathal McCarron: Did enough in getting Ciarán Brady a second booking when they tangled. 6
Conall McCann: Not on long enough to be rated.
Rory Brennan: Not on long enough to be rated.
Cavan player ratings
James Farrelly: Kicked one restart over the sideline in the first half while another miscue led to a Tiernan McCann score. Did well to deflect Frank Burns’s shot over the bar in the second half. 6
Killian Brady: Brought real energy to proceeding and brilliantly denied Connor McAliskey as he looked certain to hit the net. Broke forward out of defence well. 7.5
Conor Moynagh: Brought in after a disciplinary reprieve midweek. Swept up a lot of ball in the opening minutes and kicked a fine score in the second half. 6.5
Enda Flanagan: Spent much of his time on the pitch trying to act as a roadblock to the Tyrone counter-attacks. Replaced in the 42nd minute. 6
Ciaran Brady: Got Cavan off the mark and was performing quite well before picking up his second yellow card in injury time. Both cautions looked slightly harsh. 6
Martin Reilly: Not the tallest player about but leapt brilliantly to beat Michael O’Neill to the punch for Cavan’s goal. Usual busy display and his passing was spot on. 7
Fergal Reilly: Given the task of man-marking Connor McAliskey and kept the Red Hand attacker very quiet. One of the side’s better performers. 7.5
Killian Clarke: Injury limited his action to the first half. Had been strong before that, breaking through a few tackles to kick a fine point. 7
Oisin Kiernan: Wasn’t really involved in the early stages but grew into the game as the match progressed. Got on the scoresheet too. 6.5
Dara McVeety: Looked lively in the first half, managed two points. Kept under wraps after the break and kicked a bad wide late on. 7.5
Niall Murray: A frustrating day for Murray as he failed to really get into the heart of the action. Replaced early in the second half. 6.
Conor Bradley: Grew in confidence as Cavan started to improve. Got on a lot of ball in the second half and generally used it well. 6.5
Cian Mackey: An unusually bad day at the office for Mackey. A poor kick-pass led to a Tyrone score while he also conceded a close-in free late on. Booked. 5
Seanie Johnston: Started very brightly in a deep role but noticeably tiered after the interval. One good score from a tight angle. 6.5
Geaoid McKiernan (Star Man) One of his best outings in the blue as he took the game to Tyrone from start to finish. His point to draw Cavan level in the second half nearly took the roof off the Brewster Park stand. 8.5
Sean McCormack: Brought on for the injured Killian Clarke and got stuck into a physical midfield battle. 6
Adrian Cole: Frustrating cameo as he was brought on to stand on the edge of the square but only one ball went in, which was easily cleared by Ronan McNamee. 6.
Jason McLoughlin: Lazy tackle led to an easy Tyrone free just after he came off the bench. 5.5
Padraig Faulkner: Plenty of drive when he came on but little impact. Picked up a yellow card. 6
Caoimhin O’Reilly: Tried to make something happen but was called up for over-carrying, perhaps harshly. 6