Tyrone beat Fermanagh in turgid game to reach McKenna Cup semi-finals

Tyrone's Niall Sludden in a tussle with Fermanagh's James McMahon at Healy Park Picture by Jim Dunne

Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section C: Tyrone 0-10 Fermanagh 0-4

SOME games make you question everything, not least sanity itself. The first half fare in Healy Park last night fitted that bill.

It produced a grand total of four scores from 14 shots, and very little about the game would have strengthened a case that anything was letting the scoreboard down beyond the styles of play.

Within 20 seconds of the throw-in, Fermanagh had their entire 15 men back inside their own 45. They owned the lion’s share of ball in the first half but showed little interest in doing all that much with it.

As a result, goalkeeper Thomas Treacy was the most occupied man on the field, his number of touches from backpasses crossing into double figures before the interval.

Each time they looked like going into contact, Fermanagh turned backwards. Tyrone showed marginally more initiative off more limited ball, but their attacking play was poor.

And, to their credit, the Ernemen were excellent in defending the area in front of their own goal during the first period.

There was a snap in their tackles when Tyrone stepped in.

Its nature made it exceptionally difficult for any of the try-outs to stand out. Ultan Kelm was probably the one who caught the eye by engaging in some wrestling with Peter Harte before the ball was thrown in, and backed it up with a touch-tight man-marking job.

Ryan Jones had a good game at midfield for the visitors, but the sheer weight of numbers in front of their own goal, with James McMahon operating as the full-time sweeper and the rest filtering back around, emphasised the collective over the individual.

Hugh Pat McGeary was the pick for Tyrone, whose unit was simply greater on the whole in what became a more physical second half.

Fermanagh’s two first scores did at least come from play, with Aidan Breen and Conall Jones getting their finishes in as they went on rare forays into the Red Hand half. Tyrone’s only response in the opening period was two Peter Harte frees, the second of them in stoppage time.

Indeed, it was the 44th minute before the home side finally got a score from play, and it was well worked off Rory Brennan’s incision for Davy Mulgrew to raise a cheer.

And the London bus effect saw Ciaran McLaughlin then slot home a fine finish inside the near post. By then, Mickey Harte had had enough and his charges were pressed up man-to-man much more often.

That put Fermanagh under a different kind of pressure and they struggled to cope as effectively.

A few third-quarter skirmishes broke the game up and it briefly felt like Joe McQuillan would need to take action to nip them, but it settled down again as Fermanagh looked about a first win over the Red Hands of any description since February 2006.

But Tyrone had taken it in their grasp and Fermanagh continued to sit back, thus never looking like they’d salvage something from a game that they’d worked very hard to stay in.

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Garvan Jones landed a fine 40-metre free – the only one of Fermanagh’s four scores that came from a placed ball – but Conan Grugan instantly replied with the best worked score of the game and the gap only widened from there.

Losing brothers Ryan and Conall Jones to black cards in the same incident finished Fermanagh as a contestant, with Niall Morgan’s fine long-range free, a brilliant Hugh Pat McGeary effort and another two Harte frees squeezing an extra bit out of it on top of last year’s 0-8 to 0-4 semi-final in Enniskillen.

The Red Hands go on to face best runner-up Derry, whom they already beat in the group stage, in Sunday’s semi-final, while Rory Gallagher’s attentions quickly turn to a tough National League opening.

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1f); L Rafferty, HP McGeary (0-1), C McLaughlin (0-1); B McDonnell, R Brennan, P Harte (0-5f); C Grugan (0-1), B Kennedy; N Sludden, C McCann, R Gray; D Mulgrew (0-1), C McShane, R O’Neill

Subs: K Coney for Gray (39), D Canavan for N Sludden (49), R Sludden for Mulgrew (55), D McClure for Grugan (60), A McCrory for McDonnell (66)

Yellow cards: C McCann (39)

Fermanagh: T Treacy; J Cassidy, L Cullen, K Connor (0-1); C McManus, J McMahon, A Breen (0-1); T Clarke, R Jones; U Kelm, K McDonnell, D Teague; C Corrigan, C Jones (0-1), C McGee

Subs: R Lyons for D Teague (49), G Jones (0-1f) for K McDonnell (53), D McGurn for Clarke (60), C Flaherty for McGee (60), S McGullion for McMahon (66)

Yellow cards: A Breen (39), D Teague (43)

Black cards: C Jones (69), R Jones (69)

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)

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