There is no substitute for experience. And when it is allied to subtle technique and flamboyant finishing then it becomes an even more potent sporting weapon.
Down discovered this to their cost when, for all their recent National League bravado, they were unable to counter Tyrone’s more finely-honed psyche in this ultimately sterile Ulster football semi-final that titillated but failed to entrance a 15,419 crowd at sun-splashed Casement Park.
If the Championship is the definitive shop window of a team’s wares, then the Mourne county on this occasion at any rate, were guilty of having inferior merchandise on display.
When their early flair, energy and invention were gradually replaced by indecision, carelessness and wrong options it quickly became clear that their 16-year wait for an Ulster crown would be extended by another year at least.
Indeed, a match in which the exchanges were rarely freighted with cynicism and which made big demands on the lesser luminaries on both teams provided a further significant hint that the old order — Kerry, Cork and Tyrone and not necessarily in that order — will still be in vogue when it comes to the home straight in the All Ireland title run-in. But for all the satisfaction that this win has engendered, Tyrone boss Mickey Harte acknowledges that his side still has scope for improvement.
“Once we got into our stride I felt our experience showed. We have a good squad of players and it’s important that we keep challenging ourselves,” said Harte afterwards.
Instead of proving a catalyst for a surge into next month’s final against either Fermanagh or Monaghan, Down’s explosive start — they were 0-6 to 0-2 ahead with just 11 minutes gone — merely served as a wake-up call for the Red Hands who then proceeded to boss the remainder of the game.
With the McMahon brothers Justin and Joe along with Conor Gormley overseeing the handcuffing of Down’s forward threat, Colm Cavanagh proving a much more potent ally to Kevin Hughes in midfield, his brother Sean constituting a major upfield threat after Stephen O’Neill’s early withdrawal through a heel injury and Martin Penrose slaloming effortlessly between defence and attack in amassing the five points that helped to earn him the man of the match accolade, the reigning champions emphasised that the retention of their Ulster crown is very much a priority.
Apart from that opening flurry by Down, Benny Coulter was as isolated as Robinson Crusoe, Martin Clarke was rendered ineffective by Tyrone’s claustrophobic marking and Daniel Hughes, a man who is normally a bountiful source of scores, found space at a premium thus negating the valiant ball-winning efforts of skipper Ambrose Rogers in the midfield.
It was an unanswered six-point avalanche from the 21st to the 35th minute that put Tyrone on their victory route after Mark Poland (2), Clarke (two frees), Dan Gordon and Rogers had sparked the short-lived Down optimism.
Penrose (three frees), Sean Cavanagh (0-3), Dooher (2), Joe McMahon and Dermot Carlin struck to ease the Red Hands ahead at 0-10 to 0-9 by half-way and although they added just four more scores after the break with the ever-lively Penrose grabbing a brace and Colm Cavanagh and Owen Mulligan also on target, Down’s overall profligacy, Clarke’s erratic free-taking and substitute Paul McCumiskey’s unforgivable wide when well-placed for a goal in the 67th minute played right into the champions’ hands.
No wonder manager McCartan afterwards clambered for grace in defeat, grinding his vowels as if there were debris in his mouth.
“When we won the last day against Donegal we got the plaudits but this time round we must take the criticism. We made a good start but could not keep it up,” observed McCartan.
In contrast, a distinct glint of silverware is clearly visible on the Tyrone horizon — but what’s new?
TYRONE: P McConnell, M Swift, Justin McMahon, D Carlin (0-1), P Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan, C Cavanagh (0-1), K Hughes, B Dooher (0-2), S Cavanagh (0-3, 2f), Joe McMahon (0-1), M Penrose (0-5, 3f), S O'Neill, O Mulligan (0-1). Subs: B McGuigan for O'Neill (11), S O'Neill for Swift (41), T McGuigan for Harte (63), R Mellon for Dooher (68), C McCullagh for Mulligan (70). Yellow cards: Joe McMahon (27), McGuigan (32), Swift (37), C Cavanagh (53).
DOWN: B McVeigh, D Rooney, B McArdle, D Rafferty, K McKernan, J Colgan, C Garvey, A Rodgers (0-2), K King, D Hughes (0-1), M Poland (0-2, 1f), B Coulter, C Maginn, D Gordon (0-1), M Clarke(0-3, 2f). Subs - P McComiskey (0-1, free) for Poland (half-time), D O'Hagan for Garvey (56), P Fitzpatrick for King (60). Yellow cards: Garvey (12 mins), Colgan (28), King (29), McKernan (35), Rogers (38), Rafferty (53).
Referee: Gearoid Ó’Conamha (Galway).