Tyrone see off Armagh to win Dr McKenna Cup final
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final: Armagh 0-14 Tyrone 0-16
WHETHER it’s springtime or summer, the Sam Maguire or the McKenna Cup, these games always matter and Tyrone edged out Armagh in an intense physical battle in front of over 11,000 at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night.
Mickey Harte described it as “competitive”, Kieran McGeeney said it was “enjoyable” and no-one could argue with either assessment of a game that the Red Hands just about deserved to win.
They had an extra touch of composure in front of the posts but Armagh had their chances to win it too and, with their League programmes starting next weekend, both counties had plenty to be cheerful about after Saturday night’s final.
There was always pressure on the man with the ball and no shortage of action off it either, with three red cards handed out.
James Morgan, for two harsh-looking bookings, was the first to go and Aaron McKay and Ronan McNamee followed on straight reds for an off-the-ball bust up as referee Joe McQuillan doled out 11 yellows over almost 80 minutes of intense derby action.
Between the cards there were skills and thrills and no shortage of excellent scores as the Ulster heavyweights slugged it out.
Armagh dominated the early stages with a fluent blend of pacey, running football combined with an accurate long-ball game and the Red Hands, looking a little rusty, were 0-5 to 0-2 behind before they managed their first point from play in the 21st minute.
They settled after that, kicked the next four and were three ahead at the break.
It was tit-for-tat in the second half and the game boiled down to Rory Grugan’s late penalty. A goal then and Armagh would have had their noses in front but the Ballymacnab forward, who had a very good game, clipped the top of the bar with his effort and Tyrone pulled away to regain the McKenna Cup.
The game was played without the short-lived three handpass experiment and both managers were happy with that.
Mickey Harte made no secret of his opposition to the experimental rule or the store he sets in this competition.
“The fact that this is our 10th final in-a-row suggests that we do take it seriously,” said Harte.
“We like to use it to blood new players and still be competitive at the same time. I think we have balanced that very well and that’s why we have been as successful as we have in it.
“It was competitive, intense. There’s plenty of words you could use for it but that is to be expected and you have to deal with that and the good thing is that our players coped with that kind of atmosphere, some of them were new to it, and still played football.”
Harte started six of the team that began last year’s All-Ireland final and said he expected Armagh – who weren’t far off full strength – to challenge his side. He wasn’t disappointed.
Armagh manager McGeeney said his men “put in a great shift”.
If they replicate what they showed on Saturday night in the League they should give a good account of themselves back in Division Two.
“It was an enjoyable game, I thought it really was,” said McGeeney.
“I thought both teams went out to try and win it and it shows the want in supporters for big games at this time of year. There was a big crowd out there, good intensity and some excellent football from both teams.
“Tyrone will be happy that they won but in fairness to our boys, I thought they put in a great shift and they had the chances to win it, they just didn’t have that killing edge that a team that has been about a while probably would have to close it out.”
In an open, almost old-fashioned, tussle the number 11s on either side saw plenty of the ball in the first half.
With Tiarnan McCann and the equally impressive Niall Sludden in support, Ronan O’Neill’s prompting and passing were excellent for Tyrone in the second quarter but the industrious Grugan pulled the strings for the Orchardmen in the first.
Grugan hit the equaliser to get Armagh up-and-running after Darren McCurry had opened the scoring the first of his nine points and two frees from Niall Grimley and Stefan Campbell gave Ronan McNamee the slip to send Armagh 0-4-to 0-1 ahead.
Tyrone were struggling to hold on to possession up front but they stayed in touch through another McCurry free before another Grimley restored Armagh’s
Cathal McShane dummied Aaron McKay to clip over the Red Hands’ first score from play and suddenly they found their groove. Two points from Sludden and another from midfielder McClure – after a Sludden pass – left Tyrone 0-7 to 0-5 ahead before Grimley ended their scoring sequence with his fourth of the half
Tempers flared when McKay, Greg McCabe and Conal McCann got involved off the ball and players from both sides raced into a pushing and shoving match.
Order was restored and when play started again Liam Rafferty, who looks to have a future in the Tyrone defence, raced through and won another free for McCurry to tap over and the Red Hands led 0-9 to 0-6 at the interval.
There was no let-up in the action in the second half. Grugan’s free reduced the gap but McCurry restored it with a precise left foot finish.
Then Jamie Clarke, back in his own defence, found Campbell who turned McNamee and curled over another superb score.
Niall Morgan and Grimley swapped frees either side of a missed goal chance for Tyrone from Cathal McShane and then McNamee’s point had the visitors 0-12 to 0-9 ahead with 20 minutes left.
Armagh came roaring back at them and Clarke, who won an attacking mark and stopped, then played on and scored, his Crossmaglen clubmate Rian O’Neill and Grugan had it all-square.
Tyrone responded well and fouls on Kieran McGeary, who added fresh impetus to the Red Hand cause, and Darragh Canavan led to another brace of McCurry frees.
But Armagh weren’t finished. Campbell broke through onto a pass from Jarlath Og Burns and, for a second, he had the goal at his merc.
Tiarnan McCann somehow blocked his shot and the ball bobbled through to McGeary who handled it on the ground before scrambling it away. After consulting with the umpires, McQuillan awarded Armagh a penalty.
Grugan took the responsibility ahead of Campbell and hit his shot well, but it was three inches too high and Armagh had to settle for a point.
McKay and McNamee were both red-carded before another McCurry free had Tyrone two ahead again but still Armagh refused to submit. Grugan pulled one back and Grimley had a difficult free to level it.
He missed and McShane’s mark saw Tyrone emerge with a two-point win.
The Red Hand fans roared with delight as Peter Harte accepted the trophy but everyone went home happy, already looking forward to the next meeting of these age-old rivals. That’s what it’s all about.
Armagh: B Hughes; C Mackin, A McKay, J Morgan; M Shields, B Donaghy, A Forker; S Sheridan, N Grimley (0-5, 0-4 frees, 0-1 45); J Hall, R Grugan (0-5, 0-4 frees, 0-1 penalty), R McShane; S Campbell (0-2), R O’Neill (0-1), J Clarke (0-1)
Subs: J McElroy for Donaghy (ht), J Og Burns for McShane (ht), C Vernon for McCabe (50), J Duffy for Clarke (60), R McQuillan for Hall (63)
Yellow cards: C Mackin (4), Morgan (27&62), McKay (35), McCabe (35), O’Neill (48), Hall (58)
Red cards: Morgan (62), McKay (68)
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1 free); C McLaughlin, R McNamee (0-1), L Rafferty; T McCann, A McCrory, M Cassidy; C Grugan, D McClure (0-1); N Sludden (0-2), R O’Neill, C McCann; D McCurry (0-9, 0-8 frees), P Harte, C McShane (0-2)
Subs: M Donnelly for Cassidy (43), C Meyler for C McCann (43), K McGeary for Rafferty (50), D Canavan for O’Neill (50), K Coney for Grugan (61)
Yellow cards: C McCann (35), Rafferty (48), K McGeary (56), Grugan (60)
Red card: McNamee (68)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)