Tyrone just see off Armagh after Rian O'Neill dismissal to end losing streak
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Group 2, round two
Tyrone 0-13 Armagh 0-11
THERE'S a stage of an eye test when the optometrist alternates red and green discs to test aspects of your vision.
Red and orange are even closer in the rainbow – and those subtle shades of difference could see very different outcomes from this clash.
Tyrone probably should have won comfortably, but almost threw victory away.
Armagh might have hammered the Red Hands if they'd converted several early goal chances. Or they might have snatched a draw from a dramatic late incident. Or two.
The seven minutes of added time announced were almost up, with Tyrone playing 'keep ball' but drifting slowly deeper.
Yet there appeared no danger, until goalkeeper Niall Morgan – who had made two excellent early saves – slipped, and Armagh substitute Oisin Conaty pounced.
The Portadown lad had a sight of an open goal, admittedly some distance away, but that was swiftly snuffed out by Michael McKernan sweeping across to boot the ball out for a '45'.
Even then, it was worked short, but Conaty took his point – and Tyrone took two, with a two-point victory.
With as unbiased a perspective as possible in the circumstances, it looked like the hosts controlled much of this match after their shaky start and just about merited their narrow win.
Yet contrasting views on the red card for Armagh joint-captain Rian O'Neill, dismissed around the half hour mark, could also colour one's perception of how this game would/ should have ended up.
Tyrone eyes saw the Crossmaglen man's knee make contact with the grounded head of Cormac Quinn, as the pair tussled for the ball after it ricocheted back off the post from a fierce shot at goal by Peter Harte.
Armagh angles saw no malice, no deliberate action or aggression in that collision, merely a 'coming together'.
The men who mattered, referee Martin McNally and particularly one of his linesmen, decided that O'Neill had to go.
Tyrone were on top at that stage, at least on the scoreboard, leading by seven points to three, but it was a precarious advantage and one that seemed scarcely believable.
In a strange opening quarter, Armagh had carved out three good goal chances and also had Morgan chasing back towards his open goal on a couple of occasions – but the ball never ended up in the home net.
In the very first minute Andy Murnin kick-passed across from the right, and Conor Turbitt palmed the ball powerfully goalwards – but Morgan leapt to his left to parry it away.
Five minutes later although Stefan Campbell got bottled up around the 'square' he managed to get the ball free, but Jarly Og Burns stroked a low shot wide of the far post.
Then Armagh broke well from a midfield break ball situation, Greg McCabe and Ciaran Mackin freeing Jason Duffy, who raced on but his rising shot was beaten away by Morgan.
The upside for Tyrone was that the signs were good in the other half of the pitch, with inside forwards Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry both looking lively on those occasions when the ball came their way.
Indeed the latter scored a points 'perfect hat-trick' from play, first fisting one over, then notching a rarity with his right boot, before spinning into space to score a trademark left-footed beauty from the right side-line.
In contrast, Rian O'Neill was having an off-day, missing an early '45' and a free – although Armagh afterwards insisted it had gone over the bar.
Mostly, he was struggling to escape the attentions of Tyrone captain Padraig Hampsey, who rubbed salt into that wound by surging forward to spark the move which ended with Harte jabbing a shot against the left post.
The Red Hands seemed to have taken a decent grip of the game, and Hampsey strode forward again to smash a trademark score off the outside of his boot for a five-point lead.
However, that could have been wiped out before the break, but Brian Kennedy tracked back to rob Armagh midfielder Ciaran Mackin when he was bursting clear, then Mattie Donnelly did likewise to deny Rory Grugan. Armagh also continued to shoot a series of bad wides.
In this tale of two number 14s, while Armagh's – O'Neill – had an evening to forget, former Tyrone skipper Donnelly rolled back the years.
Even before O'Neill's sending off the Trillick man had been excellent, but he revelled in a deeper role, directing operations.
Still, although Tyrone maintained their four-point lead at half-time, 0-8 to 0-4, they struggled to make the extra man count at first, taking 10 minutes of the second half to score, which only cancelled out a fisted point by Burns.
However, the Red Hands did stretch that advantage out to six, 0-11 to 0-5, through McKernan and Conor Meyler, and a comfortable home win seemed assured.
Armagh had other ideas, though, and halved the gap, their large support roaring them on as they sensed a chance to take something home from Healy Park.
Murnin soared several times to take catches and Conaty and another sub, Shane McPartlan, added serious impetus to the Armagh attack.
Darragh Canavan made the difference for Tyrone though, twice scoring to leave four points between the teams, and although Armagh had that late chance to score a levelling goal, they had to accept a galling two-point loss.
O'Neill's absence had meant Hampsey moved onto marking Turbitt, freeing McKernan to add to the Tyrone attack, but it was the younger Coalisland man's defensive nous that proved most important in the end.
Despite that late slip, that heart-stopping moment, the Red Hands held on for a much-needed victory to kick-start their Championship campaign. The result was far better than the performance, which was laboured.
As long as Tyrone don't lose against Westmeath after the two-week break then the 2021 All-Ireland champions will progress to the preliminary quarter-finals.
Armagh should join them there, although unless they beat current group leaders Galway then Kieran McGeeney's men are likely to finish this section in third spot.
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan (0-1), R McNamee, P Hampsey (capt.) (0-1); C Quinn, M O'Neill, P Harte; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick (0-1, mark); C Meyler (0-1), J Oguz, N Sludden; D McCurry (0-5, 0-2 frees), M Donnelly (0-1), D Canavan (0-3).
Substitutes: K McGeary for Sludden (42); R Canavan for Oguz (53); N Devlin for Harte (64); R Donnelly for McCurry (69).
Yellow cards: D Canavan (24); Kilpatrick (63); O'Neill (69).
Armagh: E Rafferty; C O'Neill, A McKay, A Forker; G McCabe, C Cumiskey, J Og Burns (0-1); B Crealey, Ciaran Mackin; J Duffy, R Grugan (0-4, 0-2 frees), S Campbell; C Turbitt (0-2, 0-1 free), R O'Neill (joint-capt.) (0-1 free), A Murnin (0-1).
Substitutes: R McQuillan for Cumiskey (h-t); S McPartlan for Crealey (43); O Conaty (0-2) for Campbell (56); C McConville for Turbitt (64); A Nugent for McKay (71).
Yellow cards: Murnin (8); Burns (33); Mackin (37); McKay (71).
Red card: Rian O'Neill (30).
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).