GAA Football

Tyrone's greater supply draws the oxygen out of spirited Derry

12-05-2019: Tyrone Darren McCurry celebrates a goal against Derry during the Ulster Senior Football Championship match at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Cahair O'Kane at Healy Park

Ulster Senior Football Championship preliminary round: Tyrone 1-19 Derry 1-13

DERRY football breathes. It just hasn’t the lung capacity for this yet.

They came and threw everything they had at a Tyrone side whose greatest quality on the day was one that can only come from years in the trenches.

Shane McGuigan would have had the ears of most teams ringing, their eyes spinning, their co-ordinates off when he threw Hugh Pat McGeary with a wonderful movement and sped clear to roof Niall Morgan’s net.

55 minutes gone and the untouchable underdogs were level, 0-13 to 1-10. But the transfusion of belief that it sent coursing through the Oak Leafers pumped-up bloods didn’t work for long.

They stuck in the game for another seven minutes and when Christopher Bradley stepped in to squeeze one inside the near post to put them ahead, a county’s voicebox found itself.

Read More: Where it was won by Tyrone and lost by Derry

30 seconds later, it was hushed. Tyrone did what the really, really good teams do. Not only did they keep their heads, but they showed a quality and a ruthlessness that ultimately separated them from their plucky but inexperienced neighbours.

That inexperience manifested itself in the chaos of going in front. They lost men, they lost shape. Derry were still dreaming dreams when Niall Morgan was 30 yards out with the ball, kicking a raking pass to Richie Donnelly.

From his flick down, Frank Burns drilled a gorgeous diagonal ball. Derry had over-committed and were outnumbered in their full-back line.

McCurry, with just 31 minutes’ county football under him since the February 10 draw in Roscommon, showed no sign of rust as he stepped inside, settled and side-footed brilliantly into Thomas Mallon’s bottom corner.

On a weekend where football’s middleground almost got its comeuppance – see Meath, Kildare, Tipperary – it was clear from their final 15 minutes that Tyrone left those lands long ago.

They squeezed the life out of Derry’s next two kickouts, won them both and scored both times. Turned the next Derry attack over, with Morgan cutting the ball out as a sweeper, and went down the field to win a free that Cathal McShane scored.

And just like that, a one-point deficit was a five-point lead. They’d push it out to six by the end, which was harsh on Derry’s efforts and yet reflective of the extra gears that Tyrone had for when they needed them.

Their biggest constant was Cathal McShane, who took home with six points. He took Brendan Rogers for three from play and Liam McGoldrick, in a shorter space of time, for two. One of them he hit so hard into the sky off his left that it took speedwobbles that left the umpires guessing. They eventually guessed right.

They didn’t kick that much ball his way in the first half, preferring the running method against the wind. Mattie Donnelly was relatively quiet.

Peter Harte and Niall Sludden were both superbly shackled by Karl McKaigue and Paul McNeill respectively, which has been a worrying theme for longer than Tyrone would care.

Richie Donnelly had an excellent first half, kicking two points and winning a fair bit of ball as he took advantage of having years on the only Oak Leaf debutant, Sean Francis Quinn.

But when Tyrone went 0-6 to 0-1 up, with two from Donnelly, two from McShane and one each from Frank Burns – acrobatically tipped over by Mallon – and Harte (free), the cut of a familiarly long afternoon for Derry hung off it.

That might have been different had Jason Rocks ripped the rigging when he was in on Niall Morgan after a minute, but the finish lacked a bit of composure and the Edendork man was big to turn it away.

To their credit, Derry had been set up well from day dot and they started to suck Tyrone in and turn them over, to which Rocks was particularly at the fore with some superb tackling.

The visitors trailed by five on 19 minutes, but by 29 minutes they were within one at 0-7 to 0-6. Ciaran McFaul’s drift to full-forward brought him a score but largely it was about Shane McGuigan and the damage he was doing.

It wasn’t as uncontained in the first period, and Hugh Pat McGeary had his moments, but there was a sense that the Slaughtneil man could get a critical edge in the battle at some point.

Michael Cassidy kicked the last score of the first half for Tyrone and the first score of the second, the latter laying a marker to the newly-introduced Emmett Bradley, who hadn’t been fit to start.

Allied with Christopher Bradley’s exclusion, that was 1-40 of their National League total gone from an attack that suddenly looked lightweight on paper.

But they held their own and those pair coming on gave them a fresh second half impetus. They used it to give Tyrone a real fright.

The Red Hands were lucky to finish with 15 men. Colm Cavanagh’s three fouls all looked like bookable offences, while Ben McDonnell’s closed-fist tackle missed the ball and caught Padraig Cassidy’s jaw. Both saw yellow.

McDonnell’s was just moments before Enda Lynn popped McGuigan in for the Derry goal, and that could have been a seminal swing rather than a temporary one.

Tyrone, ultimately, had a bigger tank. Their conditioning work under Peter Donnelly is running into its sixth year. Derry have had different students serving different masters for a long time, and in effect are still only getting started in that regard.

Damian McErlain’s men spluttered in the final ten minutes once McCurry had found the net, not helped by the tactical chokehold Tyrone placed on them by dominating the ball in that spell.

McCurry was the right combination of fearless and ruthless, just at the right time. All told, Tyrone were cold and callous when they had to be.

Tyrone will be happy to have had a test, far more so than their last two summer tours to Celtic Park. They had it in them when things got thick.

Put the first 15 minutes and last 15 minutes together and Tyrone won it by 1-12 to 1-4, but such bare analysis might be more of a mask than a window.

The bit in between was Derry’s preserve, and from that they will take a heart into the qualifiers that they haven’t had in a long time.


Tyrone: N Morgan; R McNamee, HP McGeary (0-1); M Cassidy (0-2), P Hampsey (0-1), M McKernan (0-1), T McCann; B McDonnell, C Cavanagh; F Burns (0-1), N Sludden, R Donnelly (0-2); P Harte (0-4f); C McShane (0-6, 0-1f), M Donnelly

Subs: C Cavanagh for Kennedy (19), D McCurry (1-0) for Sludden (50), K Coney for Cavanagh (55), R Brennan for McGeary (58), C McAliskey (0-1) for R Donnelly (63), L Rafferty for McKernan (70)

Yellow cards: R Donnelly (26), C Cavanagh (46), M McKernan (57), P Harte (65)

Derry: T Mallon; B Rogers, L McGoldrick; SF Quinn, K McKaigue, P McNeill, N Keenan; C McKaigue, C McAtamney (0-1); J Rocks, C McFaul (0-1), E Lynn, P Cassidy; S McGuigan (1-6, 0-5f), R Bell (0-3f)

Subs: E Bradley for Quinn (HT), C Bradley (0-2, 0-1f) for Bell (47), C Doherty for Rocks (59), R Mooney for Lynn (64), P Coney for Keenan (70), E Concannon for McGoldrick (70)

Yellow cards: P Cassidy (9), E Lynn (57), C McKaigue (58), T Mallon (64)

Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)

Attendance: 10,116


Player ratings


Niall Morgan: Saved superbly with just over a minute gone from Jason Rocks. Found his kick-outs under serious pressure – but delivered a beauty for Tyrone’s goal and operated well as a sweeper-keeper. 7.5

Padraig Hampsey: Supposed to be holding the centre of defence as sweeper but better suited going forward, delivering a great kick-pass and scoring a point on the run. 7

Ronan McNamee: Out-jumped Ryan Bell in early aerial battle and proceeded to dominate him; even out-muscled Shane McGuigan in a battle for a loose ball. 8

Michael McKernan: Shipped a high tackle early on and did a good containment job on Enda Lynn before half-time. His man did some serious damage for a while but the Coalisland lad got up for a point himself. 7

Michael Cassidy: The championship debutant was typically aggressive in the tackle, up against Ciaran McFaul, and scored two points either side of half-time. Found it harder going when Emmett Bradley came on though. 7.5

Ben McDonnell: Made little impression before the break but stayed on, as a middle-third runner, despite limping at times. Fortunate that a swing at Cassidy brought only a yellow, not a red. 6

Tiernan McCann: Well advanced as ever in the first period, augmenting the attack, but had a tougher time when tasked with containing McFaul after the interval. 6.5

Richard Donnelly: Sent in some superb kick-passes in the early exchanges, leading to scores. Gave away a free with a silly foul. Supplied a stunning kick-pass for Tyrone’s goal. 8

Brian Kennedy: Made several forceful runs, strangely earning only one free, but then was taken off with a recurrence of a hamstring problem. 7

Matthew Donnelly: Over on the left at first, the captain was very influential, linking up well with his brother. Had much less freedom when Brendan Rogers was moved onto him though. 7

Niall Sludden: Very well-watched by Paul McNeill, hardly able to get on the ball, and when he did he shot a wide. Taken off 15 minutes into second half. 5.5

Frank Burns: Back sweeping in defence at times, made a good interception. Saw a goal-bound shot tipped over and slightly got the better of his tussle with Niall Keenan. 6


Cathal McShane: Still made his ‘mark’ in attack with some fine catching and a score on the run, notching four points before half-time. Added two frees either side of another point in the second half, and posed constant problems to the Derry defence. The fact that his first couple of scores, and his fifth point from play, came against Brendan Rogers is testament to the high level of his performance. 8.5

Peter Harte: Struggled to escape the attentions of man-marker Karl McKaigue. Still put in plenty of effort and converted three frees, but it was a frustrating afternoon – and he was also booked. 6.5

Hugh Pat McGeary: Brought into the team for Conor Meyler but played in defence, up against Shane McGuigan. Did OK for a while but then began to be badly troubled and was taken off shortly after his man netted. 6


Colm Cavanagh: Replaced the injured Brian Kennedy midway through the first half but was guilty of several fouls before he was booked and was taken off himself as a precaution. 5.5

Darren McCurry: Didn’t get into the game at first but then took his goal brilliantly to turn the game in Tyrone’s favour. 7

Kyle Coney: Bought several dummies from Rogers and sent a hugely ambitious effort wide late on. 5.5

Rory Brennan: Stepped up in the closing stages, winning a Derry kick-out and then setting up Connor McAliskey’s point. 7

Connor McAliskey: On for Richie Donnelly and scored a sweet point. 6.5

Liam Rafferty: Not on long enough to be rated.



Thomas Mallon: Very good first half, fine save from Burns and found his man on all but two restarts, though was punished on both. Tougher second half when Tyrone pressed right up. 7

Brendan Rogers: Struggled early on with McShane and was moved across to Mattie Donnelly after 20 minutes, before switching back at half-time. Few good attacking runs. 6

Chrissy McKaigue: Operated as the sweeper first half but was ineffective, with Tyrone’s quality of kick-passing bypassing him. Moved on to Mattie Donnelly for the second half, giving away two frees that were scored. 5.5

Sean F Quinn: The debutant had a couple of decent moments but found the smarts of Richie Donnelly hard to contend with. Replaced at half-time. 5.5

Paul McNeill: Did an excellent job on Niall Sludden. Touch-tight all day, Sludden got just one shot away, didn’t score and was replaced. Could have done little with his replacement, Darren McCurry, on the goal. 7.5

Karl McKaigue: Unlike some others who have curtailed Peter Harte, Karl McKaigue did it by his standard virtues of a very clean, trash-free display. That makes it all the better. 8.5

Liam McGoldrick: Did well on Mattie Donnelly initially, forcing him away from goal. Conceded two points late in the half off McShane. Operated as the sweeper for much of the second half. 6

Niall Keenan: Had a peripheral battle with Frank Burns. Keenan had a few decent touches in attack, setting up one score, but not massively involved. 6

Ciaran McFaul: Worked largely back into a deeper role than perhaps suits him, but did it diligently and had moments in attack, including kicking a score from a drift to full-forward. 6.5

Conor McAtamney: Did well in the air to allow Derry to more than hold their own in the kickout battle. Fine score from the wing during the purple patch, but had quiet spells too. 6.5

Jason Rocks: Got through a mountain of work, up and down, and put in a series of excellent tackles in his own 45’. Had a different job on Richie Donnelly in the second half and did tighten up. 6.5

Enda Lynn: Had spells when he really troubled Michael McKernan, especially during Derry’s good spell, the heart of which he was at. Set up the goal. Missed late on when he had to go off. 8

Padraig Cassidy: Another who put in a Trojan effort and, as is his way, he was a leader when things got tight. Drove at Tyrone and won several frees, albeit lost a few balls too. 7.5

Shane McGuigan: An outstanding day for the Slaughtneil man, hitting 1-6. Won three frees that were scored and took his goal superbly. 8

Ryan Bell: Landed a couple of first half frees with the aid of the wind but was second best in his battle with Ronan McNamee. 5.5


Emmett Bradley: Unable to start, he carried the ball well at Tyrone in the second half without any scoring return. 6.5

Christopher Bradley: A surprise he didn’t start, was lively when he came on, notching the lead score. 6.5

Conor Doherty: Filled in where Rocks left off, working up and down. 6

Ruairi Mooney: Won the free for Derry’s last score. 6

Patrick Coney: Not on long enough to be rated.

Eoghan Concannon: Not on long enough to be rated.

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