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No moves to punish rivals Tyrone and Armagh ...yet

By Declan Bogue

The Ulster Council Public Relations Officer, John Connolly, has said there will be no immediate action taken in the wake of the ugly scenes on display in Sunday's derby match between Armagh and Tyrone.

A fracas broke out in the goalmouth with several players on each side involved after eight minutes. Played in front of a massive crowd of 8,463 and the largest GAA attendance of the weekend, it was a controversial incident.

However, any investigation will be dependent on what is recorded on the day by matchday referee, Noel Mooney of Cavan.

"We cannot comment on specific incidents, but as is the case with all games, any disciplinary measures will be taken in light of the contents of the referee's report," Connolly told The Belfast Telegraph.

A total of 19 cards were handed out in a combustive season opener, with Armagh reduced to 12 men following the dismissals of Ciaran McKeever, Finnian Moriarty and Aaron Findon. Tyrone lost Colm Cavanagh to a red card for the same reason McKeever fell foul - contributing to a melee - as stated in the rule changes of October 2013.

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh was at the centre of the flashpoint, as it erupted after some pushing and shoving between him and his marker Findon.

"It's always a physical battle," explained Cavanagh on the nature of the rivalry between these two.

"Whenever you ride through the challenges against an Armagh team you know that you've come through the challenges.

"There'll be bumps and bruises but that's exactly what we need at this time of year, to get that competitive edge and those hard games and Armagh certainly presented that."

Assessing the positives from their two-point victory, the 31-year-old said: "It's always important to win any game, because we don't play friendlies," referencing Mickey Harte's forever-held aversion to playing challenge matches.

"These are the games that we need to get that competitive edge in. Whatever questions were asked of us, guys were standing up in that second half."

He was being generous to his team-mates. The truth is that it took another performance of huge leadership from Cavanagh himself to fashion a win for Tyrone in a hostile atmosphere.

Tyrone are going for their fourth McKenna Cup in a row, but they have been more relaxed than ever before about allowing influential players to play for their colleges in this competition.

On Sunday, they might have benefited from having Mattie Donnelly and Ronan O'Neill. However, both men are with Jordanstown for now.

Harte revealed that a tweaking of the eligibility rules this year made it easier to release players.

"Matthew was the captain of Jordanstown last year and he lost that for playing for us. I didn't think that was very fair but that's a different story," Harte explained.

"He's captain again this year and we're okay with him and Ronan O'Neill to go, especially with the revised legislation with players playing with colleges up to the semi-final. If we qualify we get access back to them. That was agreed this year so that made it much easier to do, that process of negotiation."

With Tyrone a racing certainty to qualify for the semi-finals now with St Mary's and Antrim left to play, it would appear that diplomacy and flexibility has led to Harte's increased pragmatism.

As for winning the thing? Cavanagh wasn't getting caught up in that, citing their forthcoming Saturday night National League opener against neighbours from another border at the other end of the month.

"We've won a few McKenna Cups in the past and we know we can't get too carried away. If we win the McKenna Cup and we get knocked on our backside on January 31 against Monaghan it'll be a disappointing month for us.

"We have to use this competition to prepare for what lies ahead and that's the most important thing."

While admitting that this squad are missing the wisecracks of departed selector Tony Donnelly, and paying tribute to former trainer Fergal McCann, Cavanagh added: "It's a nice set-up to be involved in and last year was a disappointing year and we're looking for more from ourselves as players and as a group and this is only the start of it.

"We're only back training on the pitch in the last four or five weeks.

"It's the first real test of this group and we acquitted ourselves well, particularly in the second half, but for the St Mary's and Antrim games we'll have new personnel in a number of positions and it will be their chance to stake a claim for the rest of the year."

Healy Park hosts its first game of 2015 this Sunday when former Tyrone trainer Paddy Tally brings his St Mary's team after their narrow defeat to Antrim on Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph

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