Harte’s crop maturing nicely as Down fall short
This game was supposed to light up the Ulster Championship and certainly the first-half offering suggested that it would live up to expectations.
Having endured a menu of mediocrity in the World Cup we all relished the prospect of two teams going toe to toe where the respective forward lines would be predominately on top.
Indeed, when Down took the game to the champions, moving the ball swiftly and with menace and avoiding taking it into challenges and, even more importantly scoring with comparative ease, an upset appeared to be on the cards.
Tyrone in the initial stages were totally outplayed especially in midfield where the returning Down captain Ambrose Rogers created havoc with his incessant forward runs.
But Down lost their momentum by not putting their opponents to the sword and simply could not maintain the exhausting pace they had set in the first 15 minutes.
They also failed to take two key goal-scoring chances — chances which, had they been taken, would undoubtedly have bolstered morale and perhaps greatly influenced the outcome.
However, Brian Dooher and Sean Cavanagh ably assisted by Joe McMahon were up for battle and produced a 20-minute spell of first half dominance when they scored six points and held Down scoreless for the remainder of the half, although they missed two very scorable frees.
Even with the loss of talisman, Stephen O'Neill, Tyrone went into overdrive and other players came to the fore especially the indefatigable Martin Penrose who al
though listed at corner forward played a free role around the middle, tackling everything and distributing quality ball to his fellow forwards.
Down, surprisingly, only scored one point from play in 50 odd minutes and totally lost their shape in the second half when playing with the elements.
Again this may be down to conditions but this was a game that was crying out for Coulter and especially Martin Clarke to stand up and be counted as they did in Ballybofey.
Down will be relatively pleased with their performance with an improved defensive display but will wonder why they lost their way when in total control.
Tyrone will now await the result of the Monaghan and Fermanagh semi-final in the knowledge that they are progressing very nicely without peaking as they did last year.
While Mickey Harte is obviously prepared to look no further than the third Sunday in July, the indications are that his side will still be at the cutting edge of Championship football come August.