Understrength Tyrone claim first victory of the season with comeback win against Kildare

Darren McCurry scored 1-3 for Tyrone against Kildare. Picture Seamus Loughran
Darren McCurry scored 1-3 for Tyrone against Kildare. Picture Seamus Loughran

Allianz National Football League Division One: Tyrone 2-7 Kildare 0-12

By Andy Watters at Healy Park

WITHOUT seven of the players who started last year’s the All-Ireland final, Tyrone battled back from four points down to grab a win that will help them leave a turbulent last fortnight behind.

Injuries robbed them of Mattie Donnelly and Ronan McNamee and suspensions meant Kieran McGeary, Michael McKernan, Peter Harte and Paudie Hampsey were also absent yesterday.

Facing with an inexperienced line-up, Kildare smelt blood and led 0-8 to 0-4 at the interval but goals from Conn Kilpatrick and Darren McCurry and some backs-to-the-wall defending saw Tyrone claim a morale-boosting win that will be worth more than two League points on the table.

The good news for fans was that the rain stopped just before throw-in, the bad news was the sleet started about 10 minutes later but thanks to the hard work of the Healy Park groundsmen, who employed two water-hogs yesterday morning, the surface stood up to the action which began with McCurry slotting over a simple free after referee Martin McNally had spotted an off-the-ball foul in the first minute.

McCurry worked tirelessly throughout the game but, with a gale at their backs, it was the visitors’ full-forward line that stole the show in the first half. Inspired by the excellent Daniel Flynn, Jimmy Hyland and Paddy Woodgate were a potent threat and it was Woodgate who equalised with a mark.

Hyland made light of the conditions with an excellent finish and Paul Cribbin followed suit as Tyrone struggled to get their hands on Niall Morgan’s kick-outs. Kildare’s Daragh Ryan grabbed his second break in midfield to set off an attack that ended with Flynn curling over another point.

McCurry pulled one back from a tight angle but Cribben got his second for Kildare and Flynn, causing havoc in the Tyrone defence, glided past three defenders to leave four in it.

As Morgan’s restarts improved, Tyrone began to get a foothold in the game but they missed three goal chances. Kilpatrick, Niall Sludden and Conor Meyler combined to fashion the first but they over-elaborated and Frank Burns bundled his effort wide.

Then Conor McKenna’s persistence created a chance for the lively Darragh Canavan but his shot was saved by Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan.

At the other end, the Kildare attack lost their way in the horrendous conditions. Flynn sent a simple mark off target and Hyland’s miss from a free was their ninth wide of the half. Tyrone almost made them pay when Morgan lofted a free into the Kildare square and McKenna once again displayed his battling qualities to win the ball. Canavan took a pass and jinked through the Kildare defence brilliantly but his shot cannoned off the crossbar.

Kildare scrambled the ball clear and countered and Morgan raced back to knock the ball out for a 45 which his opposite number Donnellan converted to end a 24-minute scoring drought for the visitors. Morgan cancelled it out with a 5 of his own but Hyland broke through on the stroke of half-time to leave Kildare 0-8 to 0-4 ahead at the interval.

If Tyrone make it to the All-Ireland final this year, the diehard fans who turned out yesterday deserve to get first refusal on the tickets and they were out of their seats early in the second.

Again McKenna was involved. The former Aussie Rules star hoofed a ball forward to Canavan and instead of taking a point he drove into dangerzone and flicked a pass to Kilpatrick who slammed a shot into the net to leave just a point in it.

Woodgate and Paul Donaghy traded scores before Donnellan’s free left Kildare two up as the game progressed into the final quarter.

With Rory Brennan shutting down Flynn’s influence and Brian Kennedy doing well in midfield, Tyrone saw plenty of ball but scoring was difficult. Canavan and Sludden (twice) shot wide at one end and Cribbin hit the post and Kevin Flynn missed the target at the other before Tyrone grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck.

Meyler drove out of his own half and swapped passes with Canavan – who plays with his head up in the mould of Kilcoo’s artful dodger Conor Laverty – and played the ball across to McCurry who planted an excellent finish into the back of the Kildare net.

Canavan was involved again minutes later in the move that carved out another goal chance for McCurry but this time his shot smashed off the crossbar.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff. Morgan kept out Kirwan’s piledriver but the Kildare substitute equalised and Brennan had to scramble back to clear his lines after a Richie Donnelly pass had been intercepted.

Donnelly made up for his error with a brilliant finish to edge Tyrone back into the lead with two minutes left but there was still time for Kildare to win it.

Flynn grabbed a brilliant ball from Woodgate and raced through with the goal in his sights. Tyrone supporters covered their eyes with frozen fingers but Flynn blazed his shot over the bar and in the fifth minute of injury-time Donnellan’s free whizzed wide of the post and Tyrone held on for their first win of the season.

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1 45); C Monroe, R Brennan, F Burns; N Sludden, J Monroe, C Meyler; P McNulty, C Kilpatrick (1-0); D Canavan, C McKenna, N Donnelly; D McCurry (1-3, 0-1 free), B Kennedy, P Donaghy (0-2, 0-1 free)

Subs: R Donnelly (0-1) for McNulty (44), C McShane for McKenna (54), B McDonnell for Donaghy (58), L Rafferty for Kilpatrick (69)

Yellow cards: McNulty (25), Burns (41)

Kildare: M Donnellan (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45); M O’Grady, S Ryan, R Houlihan; T Archbold, J Murray, D Ryan; A Masterson, K Flynn; C Kavanagh, B McCormack, P Cribbin (0-2); P Woodgate (0-2, 0-1 mark), D Flynn (0-3), J Hyland (0-2)

Subs: A Beirne for Kavanagh (50), F Conway for Cribben (56), D Kirwan (0-1) for McCormack (58), J Sargent for D Ryan (60)

Referee: M McNally (Monaghan)