GAA Football

Tyrone outclass Antrim to progress to Ulster semi-final showdown

Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly takes on Antrim's Odhran Eastwood and Patrick Gallagher in Saturday night's quarter-final game at the Athletic Grounds. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Antrim 2-9 Tyrone 2-23

From Andy Watters at the Athletic Grounds

IT was a Championship match in name only really and it ended in soulless predictability with outclassed Antrim beaten out of the gates of their ‘home' venue.

Only 5,409 turned up to watch it and the Tyrone supporters in Armagh got to see their favourites put on a show in the space they were afforded and gorge on the scores that were there for the taking. The outnumbered Antrim faithful, including their former goalkeeper John Finucane, now Lord Mayor of Belfast, didn't have much to cheer about.

In all, 14 Red Hands got on the scoresheet with the pick of their 25 scores arguably Tiarnan McCann's first half bullet that whistled past debutant Padraig Nugent into the back of the Antrim net.

The Saffrons were out of their depth but they bagged two quality second half goals from Patrick McCormick and Matt Fitzpatrick, their outstanding player on the night, to avoid a complete humiliation.

After the final whistle brought an end to a painfully one-sided affair, the Tyrone players chatted with friends and neighbours who'd come along to watch the men-against-boys rout while Lenny Harbinson's Antrim squad regrouped in a lonesome huddle trying to make some sense of it all.

Afterwards Matt Fitzpatrick headed for the dressingrooms wearing Mattie Donnelly's jersey and minus the gloves he'd gifted to a young fan.

“Tyrone are a class above us, no doubt, and there's no point saying anything else,” he admitted.

“But it's tough to take. When you go in to play a team of that stature you need to do basic things right and we didn't.

“You need to get things in order and then you need a bit of luck to put it up to teams like that. It's simple things like handling, sticking to the plan, even taking chances… You need to be so clinical if you want to stay in the game and we didn't do it.

“We were beat by a far better team but we shouldn't be getting beat by that much.”

The St John's clubman won two marks in the first half and they were rare moments of defiance in a sector Tyrone completely dominated.

Over and over again, the ball hung in the wind and dropped around the halfway line and, over and over again, Tyrone's Colm Cavanagh and Ben McDonnell broke the ball down for their half-forwards to begin scything attacks that led to score after score.

Michael Cassidy raided up the left wing for their first point but his score was cancelled out when Antrim debutant James McAuley did the same and split the posts with a shot from 45 yards.

Cathal McShane, once again mighty impressive at full-forward, got the next after a pass from Peter Harte who wreaked havoc with speedy running and clever passing, and Harte got the next himself to leave it 0-3 to 0-1 after eight minutes.

Fitzpatrick's mark and pass led to a free for Paddy McBride, who had some good moments in the game, but Tyrone seized control again and McShane, Rory Brennan and the excellent Richie Donnelly all landed exhibition scores.

Antrim, six points down, almost grabbed a goal against the run of play when McBride latched onto a pass from McAuley and motored towards the Tyrone goal. He was crudely dragged down by McDonnell (who was black-carded) just outside the square and Ryan Murray swept over the first of his six points.

Normal service resumed as Mattie Donnelly and McShane took points and then Harte gathered the ball, from another midfield break, jinked and feinted his way through attempted tackles and played in McCann who smashed the ball into the net with an elegant swing of his left boot and that, at 1-10 to 0-3, was that.

Murray added two frees before the break but Antrim's players already looked to be feeling the pace and their body-language deteriorated with every score as Tyrone tagged on five more points, the pick of them an elegant peach from Richie Donnelly, to open up a 14-point lead (1-16 to 0-5) lead at the break.

To Antrim's credit, they did not throw the towel in. The game was gone but they played for pride and respect and scored 2-4 to Tyrone's 1-5 in the second half.

A foul on Colum Duffin resulted in an early free for Murray and then, after McShane and Ryan McNamee (who galloped the length of the field for a rare score) had landed points, Ricky Johnson also broke from full-back and found Fitzpatrick. He somehow plotted a course through a posse of Tyrone defenders and passed to McCormick who slid the ball past Morgan.

The Tyrone management responded by taking off Harte, Mattie Donnelly and McShane and sending in Connor McAliskey, Kyle Coney and Darren McCurry. McAliskey and McCurry had scored to extend the lead to 1-21 to 1-7 before Fitzpatrick – back around the middle after an unproductive spell at full-forward - combined with McBride and stroked a brilliant finish past Morgan for Antrim's second goal.

McBride almost scored another after a trademark sprint up the ring wing but the ball bobbled past the far post and Tyrone broke with speed and purpose. McAliskey gathered Richie Donnelly's superb pass at the far post and smashed a shot in off the crossbar.

It was an emphatic finish and, truth be told, Tyrone could have had a couple more if they'd really gone for it but the game was won and the contest petered out until referee Deegan called a halt and not a moment too soon.

Tyrone were too good for Antrim, but they already knew that. Antrim knew it too but, all things considered 2-9 wasn't a bad return for them against last year's All-Ireland champions. They'll hope to salvage pride with a win or two in the Qualifiers.

Antrim: P Nugent; P McCormick (1-0), R Johnston, P Gallagher; P McBride (0-2 frees), D Lynch, N Delargy; C Duffin, S Beatty; J McAuley (0-1), M Fitzpatrick (1-0), K Quinn; R Murray (0-6, 0-5 frees), J Smith, O Eastwood

Subs: R McNulty for Smith (HT), E Walsh for Eastwood (45), R Scott for Quinn (51), M McCarry for Beatty (54), J Mallon for McAuley (63), C Mallon for Walsh (70)

Yellow card: Gallagher (36)

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1 45); HP McGeary, R McNamee (0-1), R Brennan; T McCann (1-0), P Hampsey, M Cassidy (0-1); C Cavanagh, B McDonnell; M Donnelly (0-3), N Sludden (0-1), F Burns (0-1); C McShane (0-6, 0-3 frees), P Harte (0-1 free), R Donnelly (0-3)

Black card: C Grugan for McDonnell (25)

Subs: C McAliskey (1-2, 0-1 free) for Harte (42), K Coney (0-1) for M Donnelly (42), D McCurry (0-1) for McShane (42), C McCann for Sludden (54)

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

Attendance: 5,409

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