GAA Football

Tyrone duo come up clutch to beat Donegal in Ulster SFC final

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh lifts the Anglo Celt cup. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at St Tiernach's Park

Ulster Senior Football Championship final: Donegal 0-11 Tyrone 0-13

THEY may have talent to burn, ranks bursting at the seams with the next Gormley, the next McGuigan, the next Mugsy but, when it really matters – and yesterday’s Ulster final really mattered – it was down to the most experienced man on the Tyrone team to drag the Red Hands across the finish line.

Sean Cavanagh, a veteran of the 2003, ’05 and ’08 All-Ireland triumphs, doesn’t need to roll back the years to conjure up something special. At 34, the Moy man is as good as he ever was.

In the semi-final replay against Cavan, he delivered a masterclass. At Clones yesterday, his second half performance – particularly as the game headed down the final stretch – was simply breathtaking.

His first point, fisting over the bar after 46 minutes to bring Tyrone to within a point, was good. His second, profiting from a Red Hand turnover to launch the ball between the posts from way out on the right, was brilliant.

The third act, well, it had it all – timing, accuracy, drama. Sensational. Less than a minute after Christy Toye had put Donegal a point up with 72 on the clock, the ball was worked to Cavanagh and he had a split second to take aim and fire.

As the ball left his right boot, time stood still. It was reminiscent of Tiger Woods’s amazing chip-in at the 16th at the 2005 Masters, the crowd holding its collective breath before one, two, three… ROAR.

Cavanagh’s high, dropping effort must have only cleared Mark Anthony McGinley’s crossbar by a couple of feet, but it electrified St Tiernach’s Park.

With that moment of inspiration went the Donegal challenge, as the Red Hands bounded up the field to add the two points – courtesy of Peter Harte and substitute Kieran McGeary - that ensured the Anglo-Celt was going back to Tyrone for the first time since 2010.

Just as Donegal had done to all comers on the road to winning Ulster and All-Ireland titles in 2012, Tyrone had the energy and composure to punish them. At times yesterday they out Donegalled Donegal.

Let there be no doubt though - the drama of the last 10 minutes, and there was plenty, proved the saving grace of what was an otherwise dour encounter, the first half in particular.

Between them, Tyrone and Donegal had kicked nine wides by the time the game was just 20 minutes old. In between times, they did manage to get the ball over the bar, with Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan stroking over a fourth minute free.

Cathal McShane picked up where he left off against Cavan by finishing a move involving Harte and Niall Sludden to put Tyrone two up, but Donegal reeled off the next four to hold the ascendancy after 20 minutes.

A Patrick McBrearty free and a 45 from Michael Murphy levelled matters up before Ryan McHugh took a grip on the game with three points in the space of seven minutes.

The Kilcar speedster ran onto a lovely lay-off from Odhran Mac Niallais before cutting back on to his right and firing over his first. He added another out of nothing and, after a Sludden point for Tyrone, drove forward to complete the quickfire treble and put Donegal 0-5 to 0-3 ahead.

Cathal McCarron broke from defence to make it a one point game but it was only a temporary reprieve for Tyrone as a beautiful Mac Niallais strike from distance and a McBrearty free saw the scoreboard read 0-7 to 0-4.

And if it looked as though the game was starting to get away from Tyrone at this stage, the five minutes before half-time did little to alter that viewpoint. First, Mattie Donnelly was shown a black card by referee David Coldrick after a collision with Eoin McHugh, and four minutes later Cathal McShane was also issued with a black card after tangling with Eamon McGee.

Both appeared harsh decisions. Three points down and having lost two of their best performers so far in this Championship, the signs were ominous for Tyrone.

In reality, though, the black card switches ended up working to their advantage. Donnelly had exerted little influence on the game before leaving the field, while McShane had gone off the boil after a promising start.

Their replacements, Rory Brennan and Mark Bradley, stepped up to the plate in the second half. Brennan, in particular, put a stop to Ryan McHugh’s forward forays and notched a point of his own early on.

McBrearty slotted over 15 seconds into the second half to put Donegal four ahead. This was now a serious test of Tyrone’s credentials – and, boy, how they silenced their doubters.

The Red Hands rallied and scored four on-the-trot. Peter Harte let out a huge roar as he reduced the deficit to two points after Brennan’s 38th minute score, and Harte was involved in Sean Cavanagh’s first of the day as the Tyrone captain fisted over.

When Niall Morgan made it 0-8 each with 16 minutes left to play, we had a serious game on our hands.

But Donegal didn’t panic at letting their lead slip, hand-passing the ball left and right, and working space for Mac Niallais to fire over.

McCarron squandered a gilt-edged goalscoring chance a minute later, slicing wide of Mark Anthony McGinley’s post off his left boot, but Cavanagh’s magnificent second after 61 minutes brought these old foes level again at 0-9 apiece.

The Red Hands were happy to let Donegal play in front of them, lying in wait for the opportunity to burst forward at pace. A superb Murphy free put Rory Gallagher’s men back in front before substitute Darren McCurry pegged them back again with a minute of the 70 left.

Another sub, this time Donegal’s Christy Toye, found a yard of space and slotted over. Perhaps this would be Donegal’s day after all?

Sean Cavanagh had other ideas though, the pick of a superb bunch from the Tyrone veteran making it 0-11 each and giving the Red Hands a spring in their step.

Then Donegal had their last chance. Ryan McHugh won a free 50 metres out around the centre of the field. Murphy, who had been visibly struggling for the five minutes previous, stepped up. Again, Clones held its breath – but Murphy, normally so reliable, curled his effort wide of the post.

Now it was Tyrone’s turn to try and snatch victory at the death. They worked the ball into the final third before it landed in the hands of Peter Harte, who shaped to shoot despite the close attentions of men in yellow and green jerseys.

“What are you f**king at?” roared one former Tyrone star who may or may not have featured in the Where Are They Now? section of this paper last weekend. He needn’t have worried – the ball sailed between the posts as another of the county’s experienced heads came up with the goods when it mattered most.

Cometh the hour, cometh the men.

With the clock ticking down, substitute McGeary completed the job as the Tyrone support awaited the sound of Coldrick’s whistle before taking over the St Tiernach’s Park pitch.

It was fitting that Sean Cavanagh was the man to climb the steps of the Gerry Arthurs stand to collect the long-awaited silverware. Mickey Harte and his new-look Red Hand collective will hope it’s not the last that 2016 brings.

 Deep into injury time Sean Cavanagh converted from way out right for the score of the game to put Tyrone one point ahead. Picture by Philip Walsh

MA McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Gillespie; R McHugh (0-3), K Lacey, F McGlynn; R Kavanagh, O Mac Niallais (0-2); A Thompson, E McGee, E McHugh; P McBrearty (0-3, 0-2 frees), M Murphy (0-2, 0-1 45), M O’Reilly. Blood sub: M McElhinney for E McHugh (33). Subs: M McElhinney for Kavanagh (45), M McHugh for A Thompson (53), C Toye (0-1) for F McGlynn (64), E Ban Gallagher for C Gillespie (67), A Thompson for E McHugh (68), C McFadden for P McBrearty (71).
Yellow cards: R Kavanagh (37), A Thompson (51), P McGrath (76)
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-2, frees); A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron (0-1); T McCann, J McMahon, P Harte (0-2); C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; C McShane (0-1), N Sludden (0-1), R McNabb; C McAliskey, S Cavanagh (0-3), R O’Neill. Subs: R Brennan (0-1) for M Donnelly (33), M Bradley for C McShane (37), J Monroe for R O’Neill; D McCurry (0-1) for C McAliskey, K McGeary (0-1) for J McMahon (71). Black cards: M Donnelly replaced by R Brennan (33), C McShane replaced by M Bradley (37).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)
Attendance: 33,433

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