Tyrone begin defence with victory over Fermanagh after stuttering start
Ulster Senior Football Championship preliminary round: Fermanagh 2-10 Tyrone 2-17
ALL-IRELAND champions Tyrone successfully began the defence of their Ulster crown when a dominant second half performance saw them sweep past Fermanagh in tonight’s Championship opener in Brewster Park.
Goals in either half from Conor Meyler and substitute Liam Rafferty helped break the Erne County resistance as the Red Hands advanced to a mouth-watering Ulster quarter-final meeting with Derry on May 1.
However, it came at a cost as they will be without Conor McKenna for that clash in Omagh.
The former Aussie Rules star was hugely impressive when brought off the bench for the second half, but was shown what looked a harsh straight red card by referee Joe McQuillan for his part in an added time fracas.
Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher will also have left Enniskillen less than pleased with some of Tyrone’s defending as they coughed up six goal chances in total, two of which were converted by Josh Largo-Ellis and Conall Jones as Fermanagh came on strong towards the end.
On the plus side, Conn Kilpatrick was immense around the middle all night, Darren McCurry carried his League sharpness into Championship with a stylish display, while McKenna looked like a man with a point to prove – until being shown the line at the death.
The Red Hands found themselves down to 14 at the beginning of the game too after losing Michael O’Neill to a black card just over a minute after throw-in, the Ardboe man perhaps harshly sin-binned for a late shoulder attempt on James McMahon.
The lively Darragh Canavan stroked over the first point of this year’s Championship four minutes in as Tyrone hit the front but, after a Sean Quigley free levelled it up, a scrappy 10 minute period ensued as wides were exchanged and a bit of post-League black smoke blown out.
In the end, Fermanagh were left to rue not converting the goal chances that came their way. Conall Jones had the first after 17 minutes when he lashed over the bar from close range.
Ryan Lyons hit a purple patch as Fermanagh slowly started to take control in second quarter, first pinging over a free before being left the freedom of Brewster Park to curl over from the sideline as Fermanagh led 0-5 to 0-2 with 22 minutes on the clock.
By this stage, the Red Hand full-forward line of Cathal McShane and McCurry had struggled to make any headway, starved of decent ball and finding Richie O’Callaghan and Jonny Cassidy fit for the fight, with McMahon sweeping effectively in front.
When they needed him though, McCurry showed his class. The Edendork man landed two quickfire scores, a free and a mark after a brilliant pass from club-mate Kilpatrick.
McMahon quelled the resistance briefly, bursting through and splitting the posts before McCurry landed his third in five minutes to narrow the gap to one.
Kieran Donnelly would have been happy headed for half-time – but disaster struck for the Ernemen when Conor Meyler burst into the square and cut back onto his right foot before slotting underneath Sean McNally.
McShane’s first point of the day made it 1-6 to 0-8 at the break, but there didn’t seem to be the belief among the Fermanagh faithful that their men could see out the job.
Those fears were realised in a second half that turned out to be one-way traffic – at least until Tyrone switched off in the dying moments and allowed the Ernemen to close the gap.
After Darragh McGurn blazed over the first point of the half having brilliantly collected a Ryan Jones ball into the square, Fermanagh didn’t score for another 18 minutes. By that stage Tyrone were 10 points clear, the introduction of McKenna adding much-needed impetus after that stuttering first half display.
The Eglish man played a major part in the Red Hands’ second goal, his low shot across the square coming back off the post for Liam Rafferty to scramble home to all but signal the end of the Fermanagh challenge.
Those late goals from Conall Jones and Josh Largo-Ellis added some respectability to the scoreboard, and Fermanagh deserved that at the very least after a dogged display. But Tyrone move on, albeit without McKenna, the watching Rory Gallagher making the short trip home plotting how to end the Red Hand charge.
Fermanagh: S McNally; R O’Callaghan, J Cassidy; J McMahon (0-1); L Flanagan, A Breen, J Largo-Ellis (1-0), D McCusker; D McGurn (0-1), B Horan; R Lyons (0-3, 0-1 free), R Jones, C Jones (1-1); C Corrigan, S Quigley (0-3, 0-1 free, 0-1 45). Subs: O Kelm for O’Callaghan (54), G Jones for Corrigan (57), J McDade for Breen (57)
Yellow cards: D McGurn (24), R Lyons (70+4), B Horan (70+4)
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee; R Brennan; P Hampsey, F Burns, M O’Neill; C Kilpatrick (0-1), B Kennedy; K McGeary (0-1), N Sludden (0-1), C Meyler (1-0); D Canavan (0-1), C McShane (0-3, 0-1 free), D McCurry (0-6, 0-2 frees, 0-2 marks).
Subs: C McKenna (0-2) for O’Neill (HT), L Rafferty for McGeary (49), M Conroy (0-1) for McCurry (57), B McDonnell for Kennedy (60), C Shields for Canavan (67)
Black card: M O’Neill (2-12)
Yellow cards: K McGeary (36), C McKenna (45)
Red card: C McKenna (70+4)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)