Tyrone retain Ulster title comfortably against disappointing Down at Clones
Ulster Senior Football Championship final: Down 0-15 Tyrone 2-17
THE packed streets of Clones shortly before half past three suggested that this final had a traditional throw-in time - but supporters were leaving rather than heading into St Tiernach's Park.
Down supporters in the main, obviously. Thousands of Tyrone fans waited to throng onto the pitch once the game officially finished and celebrate a comfortable triumph.
The sweltering conditions wouldn't have made it easy for the victorious players, of course, but they did contribute to the Red Hands firmly maintaining their grip on the Anglo-Celt Cup – no sweat.
The underdogs simply could not stand the heat when Tyrone turned it on. Entertaining though this game was, with only five scores from frees, it was only a close contest for around 15 minutes.
The Mournemen never once got in front on the scoreboard and although they finished both halves strongly they were second best for most of this final. They were level on one occasion after the scoring started, at a point apiece, but that was as good as it got for Eamonn Burns's side.
There was one major 'What might have been?' moment, on the stroke of half-time, when Down could have taken the lead going in at the break, but they blew that – and Tyrone proceeded to blow them away.
Wing-back Darragh O'Hanlon blazed that opportunity well wide, after Jerome Johnston had recycled a shot that came back off the upright, and Tyrone truly made Down pay for that wasted chance.
The Red Hands took the next score, for a 0-7 to 0-5 half-time lead, and reeled off seven more in a row to kill off this game.
Indeed, even though Down scored 10 of the last 15 scores they barely reduced their deficit because Tyrone substitute Ronan O'Neill found the net twice with cool finishes for goals.
Arguably the final scoreline flattered Down because Tyrone knew they had this game won by midway through the second half.
Mickey Harte maintained his excellent record in provincial finals, winning his sixth at senior level having only lost in the 2005 replay to Armagh – and even then the Red Hands had the last laugh.
They have their sights on another All-Ireland, of course, although this performance was not as impressive as their semi-final demolition of Donegal.
Nor did it need to be. Down did not bring the same drive and determination that they demonstrated in their previous game, against Monaghan.
Indeed the Mournmen appeared a little cautious or nervous in the opening period, perhaps understandably, and Tyrone were able to carve out a six points to two lead by the 22nd minute.
Centre half-back Padraig Hampsey was integral to that strong start, scoring two of those points and supplying Niall Sludden for another.
The only time that the outcome appeared in the balance was the final 15 minutes of the first half.
Down began to use the pace in their team, notably the Johnston brothers at corner-forward, and a speedy surge from Ryan led to a Conor Maginn score which left the minimum margin between the two teams.
Down captain Darren O'Hagan then forayed forward himself, only for his effort to rebound high off a post to Jerome Johnston, who set up O'Hanlon for a clear sight of the net – but he pulled his shot to the left.
That seemed to spur Tyrone back into life, and that man Hampsey was denied a shot at goal by alert goalkeeping from Michael Cunningham to cut out a cross-field pass after a lightning break.
Tyrone then lost Kieran McGeary to a black card for hauling down opposing full-back Gerard McGovern, but his replacement Declan McClure turned out to be a brilliant addition.
Mattie Donnelly showed strength to finish the half with a fisted point – and much better was to follow from the Red Hands.
Having spurned several good chances before the break, Tyrone seemed to have re-set their sights for the second half. Mark Bradley clipped a couple of scores off his left and the McCann brothers also got on the scoresheet, Conall with a huge effort, Tiernan with a simple score.
Big McClure was literally central to that period of dominance, repeatedly either breaking kick-outs down to a colleague or taking a mark, either way setting team-mates off towards the Down posts.
Down weren't helped by losing the experienced Kevin McKernan to a black card in the 42nd minute and it wasn't until midway through the second half that Caolan Mooney ended their scoring drought; the lively Ryan Johnston quickly added another point, but Tyrone then knocked them back with a goal.
Predictably it began with McClure catching a kick-out, shifting possession on to the influential Mattie Donnelly, and he picked out O'Neill who picked his spot to finish low to the net.
The 'stewards take your end of match positions' announcement soon followed, a sure sign that the game was up.
Down didn't give up, but their efforts to get forward left bigger gaps at the back, and Hampsey would have had a goal himself except that Cunningham stretched to tip his shot over the bar.
The Mournemen kept going, especially Mooney, but they were leaving themselves open to the counter-punch and O'Neill delivered another blow in the 64th minute.
Another sub, Darren McCurry, created this second goal with a splendid pass, and O'Neill's finish was equally good, dinking the ball over the helpless Cunningham.
Tyrone ended up with 14 men, Cathal McCarron receiving a second yellow card and a red in the 69th minute after an incident that forced Mark Poland to be helped off the field.
Having already used six subs, that meant Down didn't even have an extra man, but they still went on to outscore Tyrone by five points to two - but it was far too little, far too late, even though there were seven minute of added time.
Moments after the long whistle there was another traditional throwback, the pitch as congested as the streets outside the ground.
Down's wait to enjoy such celebrations will now extend to at least 24 years – and before that they face the tricky task of taking on either Armagh or Monaghan in the qualifiers, both of whom will be seeking revenge for their Ulster exits.
Tyrone, in contrast, move ahead of Armagh and just one behind Monaghan on the Ulster SFC roll of honour, with 15 titles – but the Red Hands' aspirations move on beyond the provincial scene now.
Tyrone: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann (0-1), P Hampsey (0-3), K McGeary; C Cavanagh, C McCann (0-1); D Mulgrew (0-1), N Sludden (0-1), P Harte (0-2, 0-1 free); M Bradley (0-2), S Cavanagh (capt.) (0-2, 0-1 free), M Donnelly (0-3)
Substitutes: D McClure for McGeary (black card, 39, first half); D McCurry for S Cavanagh (49); R O'Neill (2-0) for Bradley (54); C Meyler for Mulgrew (55); C McShane for C McCann (59); L Brennan (0-1) for Sludden (66)
Yellow cards: S Cavanagh (40, first half); McCarron (28 and 69); Black card: McGeary (38, first half); Red card: McCarron (69, second yellow)
Down: M Cunningham (0-1 free); N McParland, G McGovern, D O'Hagan (capt.); D O'Hanlon (0-4, 0-2 frees), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-3); P Turley, N Donnelly (0-1); K McKernan, C Maginn (0-1), S Millar (0-1); J Johnston, C Harrison, R Johnston (0-2)
Substitutes: J Murphy (0-1) for McKernan (black card, 42); D McKibbin (0-1) for Turley (47); D O'Hare for J Johnston (49); M Poland for Millar (56); A Carr for Donnelly (59); S Dornan for Maginn (62)
Yellow cards: Jerome Johnston (31); G McGovern (40, first half); Turley (45); McKibbin (69); Black card: McKernan (42)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)