Tyrone keep on trucking past limited Antrim
Ulster SFC quarter-final: Antrim 2-9 Tyrone 2-23
THE articulated lorry cabs which trundled around Armagh city centre before this match as part of a charity ‘truck run’ were a sign of what was to come.
The extra element in the Athletic Grounds was speed. Tyrone brought that, brought the noise and the power too, and simply rumbled over the top of an inexperienced Antrim side before half-time.
Fourteen points up at the break, 1-16 to 0-5, Red Hands boss Mickey Harte agreed that it was ‘job done’ by that stage:
“I think that's what we needed to do, put out a good performance as early as possible in the game. To put as much space between us and Antrim as we could.
“The longer they stayed in the game, the more oxygen it was giving them to believe they could cause an upset. Really, the goal was a big score for us because you can get as many points as you want but they were picking off a few themselves.”
The goal was crashed to the net in the 28th minute by wing-back Tiernan McCann following a jinking run from Peter Harte, putting 10 points between the teams.
While Tyrone were ‘sucking diesel’, Antrim were gasping in their wake, breathing in fumes, exhausted.
“The goal gave us a bit of daylight first of all, then we pushed on a few more scores. It was where we wanted to be at half-time and we were looking for a good performance from ourselves for that to happen,” said Harte.
Antrim drew the second half, but their manager Lenny Harbinson kept that achievement in context, with the Red Hands ‘running’ their bench, five subs on within seven minutes of the re-start.
“You’re always looking for some positives to take away and certainly in the second half we took the game to Tyrone,” said the St Gall’s man. “We scored 2-4 to their 1-7 – but most of the damage had been done in the first half.
“Tyrone are a quality side. We knew what we were up against: last year’s [All-Ireland] Finalists. We know their record over the last 20 years, particularly the last 18 under Mickey [Harte], so there were no surprises.
“The gulf in class was there to see from Division One to Division Four and that’s not making excuses, it’s just the reality of the situation.”
Harbinson didn’t shy away from criticisms of his own side’s early display, though: “There were probably three areas [that went wrong] in the first half: we didn’t get the breaking ball, the ball didn’t stick the way it should have in our forward line, and we didn’t support each other off the ball. We tried to tighten up in those three areas in the second half.”
They did that, to their credit, grabbing goals through corner-back Patrick McCormick and lively attacker Matt Fitzpatrick, the latter assisted by a pacy run from the excellent Paddy McBride.
Harte acknowledged the Saffrons’ improved second half, commenting: “People will be saying that Antrim weren’t up to it…. I think Antrim put up a really solid performance, and they showed the country that they have some really good footballers who can take some class scores.
“So I think they can come out of this with some degree of credit as well, even though the scoreboard was harsh on them at the end.”
It should and would have been worse, however, but Tyrone took off skipper Mattie Donnelly and two other attackers, Cathal McShane and Peter Harte, very early in the second half, having lost young midfielder Ben McDonnell to a black card in the first period.
Harte said his half-time team talk “was about where people stand in the pecking order, for future games.
“At half-time it was difficult not to suggest we didn't have at least one and half feet in the semi-final.
“That's a fact, and sometimes that can be dangerous as people can switch off the power a bit. When you take five or six players off…it upsets the rhythm anyway so you can't be too harsh on any of the players who came in. It was a different mix if you like.
“Yes, we wouldn't be happy about conceding a couple of goals and we will have to take a look at it and see how we stop that from happening.”
Antrim also had the strong breeze in their favour in the second half, so Harte was taking no chances: “You can’t throw caution to the wind either, you have to be careful, and protect the defence, because in that second half, we conceded two goals, and if the gap had been narrower, then we would have been in trouble for the last 10 or 15 minutes.”
In truth, there was no chance of that, Tyrone streets ahead of their Division Four opponents.
After two games, Tyrone are into Ulster’s last four. Antrim, as so often, are out first time and into the last chance saloon of the All-Ireland qualifiers, praying for a favourable draw this morning.