New-look Tyrone take the spoils
Tyrone 1-14 Derry 0-15: The brave new world of Tyrone football dawned yesterday in the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup opener, when they stole in to shift the balance of this impressive derby contest with a late Conor McAliskey goal to take the group points against Derry.
This contest was played out in front of an encouraging crowd of 4,089 and whatever else they say about the appeal of this competition and the ongoing difficulties experienced this year with the withdrawal of Queen's University, there can be no denying the appetite of Tyrone fans to assess new talent.
As often with these dates, the flavouring comes with the novelty of new faces.
Mickey Harte introduced five new players from the start, goalkeeper Niall Morgan, defenders Barry Tierney, Ryan McKenna and Danny McBride, and attacker Kevin Gallagher.
While some of the more craggy faces belonging to the likes of Ryan McMenamin and Conleith Gilligan are gone forever from this fixture, others such as Sean Cavanagh and Raymond Wilkinson returned after missing Championship football last season.
It was also Brian McIver's debut as Derry manager and he began like a man with his own definite designs on the future. Eoin McNicholl was the goalkeeper of the All-Ireland winning Minors team of 2002 and he finally made his county debut 10 years and four months later.
Ryan Ferris, Ryan Bell and Lee Kennedy were also thrown into the fray.
Throw-in had been delayed because of the crowd arriving into the ground.
It made for an extra-long warm-up for both teams, and that brought a certain lethargy to the opening spell.
Lee Kennedy marked his debut with the opening point in the first minute, and fellow debutant Ryan Bell was shortly off the mark five minutes later with an expertly-struck '45'.
Gradually, Tyrone came into it. Cavanagh was showing a willingness to be involved and had the knack of getting on the end of moves.
He converted a free which he won himself after a foul by Patsy Bradley midway through the opening half, but also planted a beautiful left-foot effort after selling a solo dummy down along the sideline three minutes before the end of the half.
That would put Tyrone three points up and while Derry appeared to wilt, a late rally yielded three points to leave them level at half-time.
The highlight of that burst was a crossfield ball by Charlie Kielt into Eoin Bradley, whose turn and pick up in dreadful conditions lost the tight-marking Dermot Carlin, before Bradley speared his shot between the posts.
When Derry moved three into the lead early in the second half, it was Tyrone's turn to appear lead-legged.
But, once again, Cavanagh extracted them from the mire.
As well as tipping over two frees in quick succession, he landed a monstrous point with his left boot from close to the sideline on the terrace side.
He finished with a total of seven points, illustrating just how much he was missed last year during Tyrone's disappointing performance in the Championship.
Derry managed to wrestle control again through scores from the impressive PJ McCloskey and Mark Lynch as the contest rose to an intensity rarely seen in January football. Clearly, a programme of indoctrination of Brian McIver's will-to-win rubbing off on his charges.
They looked to be home and hosed when a shot attempt by Tyrone substitute Plunkett Kane appeared to be drifting harmlessly wide.
It was kept in play by another replacement — Conor McAliskey — who swivelled and drilled the ball low to the net past McNicholl.
There was even time for further drama, as Collie Devlin spurned a chance to grab a goal back for the Oak Leafers.
The last action of the game was a puzzling one, as James Kielt tapped over a free and his fourth point of the day, only to be greeted with the final whistle and Derry two points down.
The Oak Leafers looked like they had done enough, but the introduction of Cavanagh turned the tide.
It deserved a more thrilling finale.
But then again, it is January.
Tyrone: N Morgan; D Carlin, C Gormley B Tierney; R McKenna, Joe McMahon, D McBride; C Clarke, S Cavanagh (0-7, 5f); K Gallagher (0-1), Mark Donnelly, Matthew Donnelly (0-2); M Penrose, S O'Neill (Capt. - 0-3, 2f), J Lafferty
Subs: McCann for McMahon [24m], Harte (0-1) for Donnelly, McCurry for Lafferty [47m], Kane for Clarke [60m], McAliskey (1-0) for McBride [65m]
Derry: E McNicholl; R Ferris, D McBride (Capt.), C Mullan; C Kielt, M Lynch (0-2), SL McGoldrick, P Bradley, PJ McCloskey (0-3); B McGoldrick, R Bell (0-2, 1x'45'), R Wilkinson; E Bradley (0-3, 1f), L Kennedy (0-1), J Kielt (0-4, 2f)
Subs: Devlin for Kennedy [49m], Brown for Ferris (52m), McAlynn for B McGoldrick [57m], D Mullan for P Bradley [60m]
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).