Holders Down took a giant step towards a place in the semi-finals of the Dr. McKenna Cup when they finished seven points better than All Ireland champions Tyrone at a damp and windy Pairc Esler yesterday.
And that place seemed a little closer when the news came through that St Mary’s had beaten Monaghan.
Mickey Harte’s men might have been suffering from jet lag, having just returned from their winter break on Friday, which could have accounted for the Down dominance in the second half, particularly in the last 20 minutes when they outscored the All Ireland champions 0-08 to 0-01.
Harte gave starting places to newcomers Aidan Cassidy, Colin Doris and Gareth Devlin but their starting line-up had eight players with a strong championship pedigree in their starting 15 so the Down performance is worthy of some scrutiny.
Down, playing against the wind, were guilty of some wayward shooting in the first half, kicking five wides in the opening quarter allowing Tyrone to level the scores four times.
It was Down who created the best chance of the game when good work by Fegan and Hughes put Sexton in a one to one with Devine but a despairing tackle from Kavanagh rescued Tyrone and John Boyle was off target from the resultant ’45’.
A timid first half ended six points apiece but there had been enough to suggest there was better to come.
Down with the wind in their backs were first to score when Michael Magee pointed a free but this score was negated by a similar effort from O’Neill and a minute later Kavanagh, now operating at centre half forward, put O’Neill in for a point to give Tyrone the lead.
If the All Ireland champions thought they would push on and take control they were in for a rude awakening.
Good work by Hughes and Sexton put Michael Magee in for a point from play to level the scores at eight points each and Down sent on Benny Coulter to replace his club colleague Cahal Magee.
The arrival of Coulter was greeted by a mighty cheer from the crowd and the Down play was immediately directed through their talisman.
Jackie lynch was getting his hand to a lot of ball at the middle of the field where his partner Joe Ireland was getting on to the broken ball to good effect and behind them Louis Sloane was fielding well.
Fagan’s point from play restored the Down lead and suddenly the chances kept coming.
Twice Coulter scored from play as Down added eight without reply and Peter Donnelly cleared of the line before Stephen O’Neill rounded off the scoring
Down complete their group campaign with a visit to Inniskeen on Wednesday night
Down: B McVeigh, D Rafferty, M Cole, C Garvey, K McKiernan, L Sloan, H Davey, J Lynch, J Ireland, R Sexton, J Boyle, D Hughes, J Fegan, C Magee, M Magee. Subs: A Carr for McKiernan (ht), K Duffin for Rafferty (47min), B Coulter for C Magee (50min).
Tyrone: J Devine, M Swift, P Donnelly M Magee, D Harte, S Kavanagh, P Jordan, K Hughes, A Cassidy, R Mellon, C Doris, G Devlin, R Mulgrew, S O’Neill, T McGuigan. Subs: J McMahon for McGuigan (ht), E McGinley for Doris, M Penrose for Mellon, C Holmes for McGinley
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)