GAA Football

Tyrone use the hurt to find a way to win

Tyrone's Kieran McGeary comes under pressure from Monaghan's Shane Carey in yesterday's semi-final game at Croke Park. Picture by Seamus Loughran

All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Tyrone 1-13 Monaghan 0-15

GAVIN Devlin skates across the turf like a young Christopher Dean, his arms and legs unsure of what to do or where to be or who to hug. Frank Burns, the nearest vision in red, becomes his Torvill.

Mickey Harte just does what he does. A beaming smile, the clenched fists and the glasses withdrawn to the pocket. It’s been a long decade at times, one that threatened at times to engulf his legacy in waves of criticism.

But here they are now, new team built, new system refined. His fourth All-Ireland final, but the first for the entire squad.

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Are they any closer to actually winning it? It will all be a bit different in three weeks’ time but perhaps there were some indicators that they’ll trouble Dublin, and others that they’ll be doing well to compete.

That’s a conversation for again. This one is a game that can be broken down into a couple of key segments.

The first is the referee. Anthony Nolan was the central figure in Monaghan’s eyes.

In itself, that has to be analysed in two parts as well, because Tyrone’s discipline in the tackle was superb at times. There were times Monaghan were looking frees and rightly didn’t get them.

But there were equally times when, in particular, Conor McManus was having a hard time buying anything when Padraig Hampsey was doing everything he could to break even.

Much of the Farney crowd’s venom came down on the final decision, where Kieran Hughes seemed to be trying to buy one off Tiernan McCann by backing in and hitting the turf. It didn’t really look like a free. But there were others that did.

Arguably the biggest call came when Conor McManus leant on Mattie Donnelly on a loose ball early in the second half. There was a goal on as the Clontibret man poked it into the space for Vinnie Corey, but referee Nolan decided that the contact warranted a free out. It looked soft.

It wasn’t just the man in black, though. It never is.

They had two great goal chances in the first half, but Tyrone’s scramble defence just did enough. Hampsey threw himself to force McManus back inside towards the traffic, where Mattie Donnelly and Tiernan McCann became human shields to squeeze the life out of it.

When a Colin Walshe shot came down off the post and fell right into Vinny Corey’s basket case not long after, he didn’t realise the time he had and Niall Morgan was out quickly to prevent him repeating the dose he’d administered in Omagh. Fintan Kelly snapped up the rebound but was blocked down, and they ended the attack with nothing again.

The sides kicked ten wides apiece, and Tyrone would point to their chances generally being more scoreable, while Monaghan’s decision making led to a multitude of rash shots from no-hope positions.

And that takes us back to the last chance, when Rory Beggan joined the attack. That ought to have been enough to create panic and an overlap somewhere, but he went for goal from 55 metres with a defender coming in to block. It was never on.

Tyrone weren’t flawless but in those final 15 minutes, they got big plays from big players. Niall Sludden’s goal may have been founded in fortune the way it fell to him with space and time, but his finish was emphatic.

Monaghan had led 0-12 to 0-11 and were just, as it turned out, 11 minutes from an All-Ireland final. That included just three added minutes, which Malachy O’Rourke railed against, insofar as he ever rails.

It was Peter Harte that opened up the goal for Sludden, though Fintan Kelly may regret his split-second hesitation to call for over-carrying. That let the handbrake off on Harte, who fed Tiernan McCann. His shot was blocked but Sludden’s wasn’t, and so the game swung again.

Harte had a big final 20 minutes, having been once more well held by Fintan Kelly up until that point. Padraig Hampsey did a fine job on Conor McManus in his first major full-back assignment, while Mattie Donnelly’s work might have gone largely unseen but was relentless at centre-back.

Kieran McGeary got the start he’s deserved and used it to good effect, curtailing the influence of Karl O’Connell, although Lee Brennan didn’t fare quite as well against Allstar shoo-in Ryan Wylie.

Niall Kearns was again a solid beam for Monaghan, but it was only when Kieran Hughes came in with 20 minutes to go that their attack found that extra little bit of punch they’d been lacking.

He created a bit of panic, with Tyrone having to leave rookie Rory Brennan on him too after Ronan McNamee was taken off when he took yellow that could well have been black.

That foul was on Conor McCarthy, whose performance was outstanding, kicking three points from play. And when he made a vital interception in defence that led to the leveller at 0-11 all, his impact was edging towards the match-winning variety.

But Tyrone got back in front and it was only when it went to 1-13 to 0-13 and Jack McCarron came on that Monaghan realised there was nothing left only to chase it desperately.

And how nearly it worked. They were still three down when McCarron dipped in behind. A goal was half on his mind, and he hadn’t a crystal ball to know a point would maybe have done, only for Colm Cavanagh to read his step and meet him with the tackle of the season.

The Moy man took a while to warm this season, but he’s been back near his best in the last two games, which is a major plus heading towards the final.

Monaghan still almost rescued extra-time. Three down, Kieran Hughes showed, wrestled and kicked to bring it to two. Drew Wylie used the decoys and, despite wearing three, you never thought he’d ever miss from 20 yards.

One-point game deep in stoppage time, and Cavanagh gets surrounded by a wall of blue, and is lucky to get the ball spooned away a millisecond before he overcarries.

Declan McClure could win it but his shot’s rash and that gives Monaghan one last attack. But it’s wasted by a man that’s shown immeasurable coolness all year, and when his opposite number thumps the ball back into oblivion, all the pressure on Tyrone is relieved.

Monaghan will never get a better chance, and they will have qualms that will stay with them when they’re old and grey. But you did get the sense that no matter what they did, Tyrone would have found a way not to lose.

Four semi-final defeats were sore at the time, but you’d only really count 2015 and 2017 as part of the genetic make-up of this team.

You have to lose to learn how to win. Learning enough to narrow a 10-point gap in 12 months is a big ask, but the very least they’ll be is a damn sight closer.

N Morgan; M McKernan, P Hampsey, R McNamee; T McCann (0-1), M Donnelly, F Burns (0-1), P Harte (0-3, 0-2f); C Cavanagh (0-1), C McShane (0-1); K McGeary, N Sludden (1-2), R Donnelly; C McAliskey (0-4, 0-2f), L Brennan
Subs: H Loughran for Burns (HT), M Bradley for L Brennan (48), R Brennan for McNamee (50), C McCann for R Donnelly (57), R O’Neill for McAliskey (62), D McClure for McShane (62)
Yellow cards: T McCann (20), R McNamee (44)

Monaghan: R Beggan (0-1f); K Duffy, D Wylie (0-1), R Wylie; F Kelly (0-1), C Walshe, K O’Connell; N Kearns, D Hughes; R McAnespie, V Corey, S Carey, D Malone, C McCarthy (0-3), C McManus (0-7, 0-6f)
Subs: D Mone for Malone (45), K Hughes (0-2) for Carey (50), J McCarron for Corey (68)
Yellow cards: R McAnespie (18), D Malone (35), C Walshe (49)

Referee: A Nolan (Wicklow)

Attendance: 49,496

How the Monaghan players rated 

Rory Beggan: Monaghan won 22 of his 24 restarts despite Tyrone’s best efforts to pressurise him. Dropped one free wide before nailing a great long-range effort. Joined the attack late on but a rash decision to kick their last chance away. 7.5

Kieran Duffy: Had his troubles with Connor McAliskey, who took him for two points from play, although there were good moments like a fine block on Tiernan McCann. 6

Drew Wylie: Lost the first ball to Richie Donnelly but hardly another thereafter. Dominated the battle, came strong in the middle at times and even popped up with a cool late point. Summed his day up when he was left one-on-one with Lee Brennan and won. 8

Ryan Wylie: An Allstar surely awaits. Anything else would be a travesty. Perhaps lucky to escape an early black card but was utterly dominant against Lee Brennan, and then kept Mark Bradley scoreless too. 8.5

Colin Walshe: There were times when Niall Sludden was quiet and Walshe himself was on plenty of ball for Monaghan, but the Dromore man still took him for 1-2, including a couple of early peaches. 6.5

Vinny Corey: Perhaps a tactical error leaving him so high up the pitch when Mattie Donnelly played the whole game at centre-back. Wasn’t the man to impact it in that way. Had a good goal chance saved. Fouled Donnelly out wide for a score. 6

Karl O’Connell: Tyrone detailed Kieran McGeary to limit his influence, and to good effect. The Tyholland man showed flashes but they were rare by the standards he’s set this summer. 6

Niall Kearns: The find of the year, the 21-year-old was the dominant hand in his battle with Cathal McShane. Not only was he a serious aerial presence, but his composure on the ball was impressive too. 8

Darren Hughes: Took him a while to make any impact, with Tyrone bypassing him by avoiding the centre of the goal. Carried the ball into contact too often and found the referee unsympathetic. 6

Ryan McAnespie: Made his trademark run for a kickout over the top that opened a great early chance which Tyrone only just scrambled clear. But otherwise it was a relatively quiet day as Michael McKernan shut him down well. 6

Shane Carey: Made little impact in the attacking third for Monaghan, but could equally claim that Tiernan McCann’s influence for Tyrone were a bit more limited than usual. 5

Fintan Kelly: Unsurprisingly paired up with Peter Harte again and, for 50-plus minutes, the Clones man would have been happy with his defensive work. Couple of poor decisions in attacking positions though, and lost Harte in the final quarter. 6.5

Dermot Malone: Showed for kickouts into deep pockets but his decision making on the ball was poor and he found himself turned over on a handful of occasions. 5

Conor McManus: His early point from play was his only one of the day, with the other six coming from frees. Nailed a few tough ones but will be disappointed at the one he missed from the right wing. Struggled to shake Hampsey and the referee didn’t aid him. 7

Conor McCarthy: Very impressive performance from the Scotstown man, who perhaps finally nailed himself into the team. Three points from play, a handful of assists and tormented Ronan McNamee throughout. 8.5


Dessie Mone: The one meaningful ball that came his direction hopped up too high and he lost out to Niall Sludden. 6

Kieran Hughes: Sprinted down the tunnel at full-time like a man frustrated that he’d only been given 20 minutes. Had a big impact in that time, almost turning the game. 7.5

Jack McCarron: Had goal on his mind but was turned away by the strong hand of Colm Cavanagh. 6


Tyrone ratings

Niall Morgan: His kick-outs were generally good in the first half but a couple towards the end of the game put his side under serious pressure. Reacted quickly to block Vinny Corey’s first half goal chance. 6.5

Michael McKernan: A remarkable rise for the 20-year-old Coalisland man this season. Played cat and mouse with Ryan McAnespie, pushing into full-forward at one stage. Another solid display. 7

Ronan McNamee: Handed the Conor McCarthy portfolio, a player he knows well through university football. At times, McCarthy was like trying to nail jelly. Withdrawn after incurring a yellow card. 6

Kieran McGeary: His excellent cameo appearances of late earned him a start. The Pomeroy man was given the onerous task of tracking Monaghan’s chief line-breaker Karl O’Connell and did well on him. 7

Tiarnan McCann: Untroubled by a couple of Dermot Malone runs, pointed in the first half and his penetrating dash through the centre led to Tyrone’s game-changing major. 7

Frank Burns: A surprise decision to move him from defence to half-forward and it looked like reaping dividends early on. But after an early score his shooting let him down. Replaced at the break. 6

Peter Harte: Fintan Kelly stuck to him like glue for nearly two games, but the Errigal Ciaran man found a bit of space in the final quarter, pointing and converting a free to give Tyrone much-needed breathing space. 7

STAR MAN: Colm Cavanagh: His tackle to deny Jack McCarron a goal-scoring chance late on will go down in Tyrone folklore. Took a great catch under his own bar to deny McManus in the first half and was the best midfielder on show by some distance. Everything he did was hugely effective. Peaking at the right time. 9

Padraig Hampsey: The Coalisland man is now Tyrone’s main trouble-shooter. Marked Michael Murphy well last week and imposed himself on Conor McManus, restricting him to one point from play. Coughed up a few frees but effective display. 7.5

Matthew Donnelly: Shifted back from midfield to a more defensive role and played it to a tee. Vinny Corey didn’t know whether to stick or twist, with Donnelly testing the Monaghan’s stamina with some lung-bursting runs. Terrific first-half block to deny Fintan Kelly. 8

Niall Sludden: Hitting 1-2 from play in an All-Ireland semi-final is a great return. Apart from landing one effort woefully short, the Dromore man was much improved from last week against Donegal. 8

Cathal McShane: Honest as the day is long. Worked tirelessly for the team but didn’t get a sight of Monaghan’s posts. A trusted foot soldier of Mickey Harte's. 6

Lee Brennan: Forced his way into the starting line-up but, with hindsight, he might have been better coming off the bench. Ryan Wylie never gave him an inch and was replaced. 5.5

Richie Donnelly: A quiet enough game. Hit one wide in the second half and dropped much deeper to get his hands on the ball 6

Connor McAliskey: His two points after the restart gave Tyrone a massive advantage. The Clonoe man missed the target a few times but improved from the last day. 7.5


Harry Loughran: Introduced for the start of the second half. Worked hard but conceded a couple of fouls. 5.5

Mark Bradley: A slight surprise the Killyclogher man was held in reserve. Lively despite a wide. 6

Rory Brennan: Had his hands full on Kieran Hughes. 5.5

Conall McCann: Caught one important ball in the closing stages.


Ronan O’Neill: Had one good possession in the 10 minutes he was on the field. 5.5

Declan McClure: Came in for Cathal McShane and offered more height. 5.5

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