Tyrone back to winning ways
Tyrone 2-11 Kildare 0-10: It's a while since Mickey Harte beamed like this after a game, and the smile that creased his face at Croke Park on Saturday evening was a telling one.
He saw something he liked in a second-half performance - a spark and an energy that has been absent for the last couple of years, even on days when Tyrone were winning.
The removal vans have been busy ferrying old belongings out of the Tyrone dressing-room for the last six months and there was an obvious fear that so much displacement through retirement and injury (Justin and Joe McMahon and Dermot Carlin were late withdrawals here) would leave the side highly vulnerable. At 4.50 on Saturday it genuinely looked like a spread-better's paradise.
But Harte's new-look Tyrone have been created with pace very much in mind. Last August against Dublin was a lesson to be absorbed, and all future plans look to be hinging on what happened that evening.
In Aidan McRory, Cathal McCarron, Sean O'Neill, Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte, they have players who can cover ground really quickly.
But the essential difference here was execution.
Old hands like Owen Mulligan and Stephen O'Neill prospered as the game freed up in the second half and their instinct and natural eye for a score was in contrast to some of Kildare's more laboured efforts.
It just came easier to Tyrone, whether it was that last pass or the ambition to pick out a 40-metre delivery. They had that vital edge in class up front.
Kildare have a lot of things going for them and it's only when you roll call who didn't start that you see the potential for change over the coming months: Hugh McGrillen, Michael Foley, John Doyle, Eamonn Callaghan, Dermot Earley, Emmet Bolton and Morgan O'Flaherty are all names that spring to mind.
But you just wonder after an evening like this if they have the end product to make that leap to the next level. Who will produce that little bit of innovation in the last third of the field, who has the capacity to do something different?
Manager Kieran McGeeney bemoaned the spurning of several goal chances, especially when they chased it down late in the game. Tommy O'Connor put Tommy O'Neill and Eamonn Callaghan in good positions as the clock ticked down but neither were seized, O'Neill being the victim of a foul by Conor Clarke that wasn't punished.
"Four goal chances at the end, nine dropped short, overall in football terms we were well in it, if not more in it than they were," observed McGeeney. "They got two goal chances and put them away; we got four or five and didn't get any of them."
As a summation it probably doesn't get simpler than that, but for Kildare it's a common complaint.
O'Connor has been so impressive in winning and distributing at full-forward so far this season but from four games in the position he has no score of his own. Alan Smith and James Kavanagh were disappointing.
The continued rehabilitation of Mikey Conway after almost two years out is a big plus, however. Operating around the half-forward line, Conway finished with six points, the four from placed balls off his left foot another string to the side's bow.
"He was very good. He created a lot of opportunities for us there. There were a couple of positives like that," said McGeeney.
Kildare had control of the game for much of the first half and ended with a 0-6 to 0-3 lead that probably should have been two or three points more.
For Tyrone there was a sense of deja vu from August at times in that opening half as they were met with a ruthless communal defence putting strong pressure on.
Harte wasn't happy and hinted at strong words during the interval.
"They took to heart what we said at half-time that the standard wasn't good enough and it was really as good a second-half performance as we had in a long time," he said.
His nephew Peter Harte was the architect of their recovery. Listed at centre-back, he spent much of his time in a more advanced position as Donnelly and Martin Penrose dropped back to emphasise a return to fluid ways.
Six minutes after the break, Harte cleared a way past Tommy O'Neill and popped a pass up for Penrose to bat home for a 1-4 to 0-6 lead.
Doyle, on the field after only 20 minutes, responded with a glorious score and you sensed that the shackles were being thrown off by both teams. Tyrone then led by two but Kildare responded well to lead by one as Conway's influence grew.
It turned again, however, fatally for Kildare, when Stephen O'Neill, who clearly loves these early league nights under lights, and Mulligan put together two wonderful passes on 56 minutes and Harte surged through bravely to control the ball and push past Connolly, getting injured in the process.
That made it 2-7 to 0-10 and Kildare suddenly looked disorientated. Mulligan and O'Neill (two) opened a six-point gap, and O'Neill squeezed a shot just wide.
To their credit, Kildare recovered and finished strongly, but execution failed them, something McGeeney admits is "annoying." At least that's an improvement from the "embarrassment" he felt after last year's defeat to Tyrone in Dungannon.
It gave Tyrone a first opening-round league win since 2009.
"We owed ourselves a good start," Harte said. "In other years we've been very poor at the start of the league. We lost our first two last year and the year before and put ourselves under pressure.
"It doesn't take all the pressure away but makes you feel so much better when you start well and are not made to feel you are chasing the pack."
Man of the Match: Peter Harte (Tyrone)
Scorers - Tyrone: Stephen O'Neill 0-5 (2f), O Mulligan 0-3 (1f), P Harte, M Penrose 1-0 each, R O'Neill, D McCaul, Mark Donnelly 0-1 each. Kildare: M Conway 0-6 (4f), P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty (1f, 1 '45') 0-2 each, P Kelly, J Doyle 0-1 each.
Tyrone - P McConnell 8; A McRory 7, C Clarke 6, P J Quinn 5, C McCarron 7, P Harte 8, Sean O'Neill 7; M Murphy 7, A Cassidy 6; Matthew Donnelly 7, P Hughes 5, M Penrose 6; Stephen O'Neill 8, Mark Donnelly 6, O Mulligan 8. Subs: D McCaul for Quinn (32), R O'Neill for Hughes (32), N McKenna for Cassidy (60), S Cavanagh for Penrose (67).
Kildare - S Connolly 7; P Kelly7, C Fitzpatrick 7, O Lyons 7; B Flanagan 5, T O'Neill 6, E O'Flaherty 7; D Flynn 5, R Sweeney 6; T Moolick 5, M Conway 8, P O'Neill 7; J Kavanagh 6, T O'Connor 7, A Smith 5. Subs: J Doyle 6 for Moolick (20), H McGrillen 6 for Flanagan (41), E Callaghan 6 for Smith (45), M O'Flaherty 5 for Fitzpatrick (50), R Kelly 5 for Flynn (58).
Ref - M Duffy (Sligo).