Tyrone breeze to Ulster title with eight point win over Down
Down 0-15 Tyrone 2-17
Clones was once again taken over by the men and women among the Bushes as Tyrone defended their Ulster title with complete ease against Down.
In the lead-up to this final, Mickey Harte was often given to recounting the last time they defended an Ulster title. They hammered Monaghan in 2010 and nobody even thought of entering the field to celebrate the aftermath.
This time, the match day announcer made his appeal a few minutes from the end for fans not to enter the pitch, with Tyrone cruising. It was met with jeers and amusement. Minutes later, the place was awash with red and white.
Very few Ulster titles are captured with one team so clearly ahead of all the rest in the province. When they are, such as Donegal's tour de force in 2012, then All-Ireland titles come into sharp focus.
In beating Derry by 11 points, Donegal by nine and now Down by eight points, Harte has now captured his sixth Anglo-Celt Cup with the Red Hands. Should they go one further than last year and make it to the All-Ireland semi-final, they are on course to meet Dublin. And what an occasion that would be.
The game did not live up to the weather, the setting or the occasion. Tyrone stepped on the gas to race 0-6 to 0-2 ahead after the first quarter but Down owned the second, reeling them back to a single point.
Their initial jitters, where they struggled to get any ball to stick inside with their inside forwards Connaire Harrison and Jerome Johnston, seemed settled by a Ryan Johnston skyscraper that just crested Niall Morgan's crossbar.
A speculative Niall Donnelly shot perhaps carried further than expected while Ryan Johnston's brilliant run and lay off was capped by a Conor Maginn point.
With half time approaching, Down had their big moment. Darren O'Hagan, who coped admirably in the opening half against Mark Bradley, beat him to a ball and began a counterattack. He found himself on the end of it at the other end of the field and when his shot dropped off the post, Jerome Johnston was under it.
He dished off to the onrushing Darragh O'Hanlon, but with the goal gaping, he flashed it across the face. With the half almost up, Matthew Donnelly barrelled in along the endline to punch a point over to leave Tyrone ahead at the break 0-7 to 0-5.
With Declan McClure introduced in injury time of the first half following Kieran McGeary's black card, the Clonoe youngster was to have an enormous influence on the third quarter, which was enshrined by Tyrone's six consecutive points as they scorched Down's resistance.
When Down tried to push up on Morgan's kickout, McClure was on hand to either fetch cleanly, or else produce a clever knock down to a waiting team mate. On the occasions that Tyrone pressured Michael Cunningham's kickout, McClure got his fist to several balls, planting them firmly back into the dangerzone.
He laid on Mark Bradley's two points from play, while brothers Conall and Tiernan McCann got in on the act with two superb points from play within a minute of each other.
The star of the defence was Padraig Hampsey. With Down withdrawing their forward line for the most part, the Coalisland back rattled up two first half points and added another on 60 minutes, denied a goal from an acrobatic save by Cunningham.
Down's cause received another blow when Kevin McKernan was dismissed on a black card in the 43rd minute, while the tiring Peter Turley finally ran out of gas.
On 56 minutes, the contest was killed. A long Morgan kickout was caught by McClure who sent it onto Matthew Donnelly. He pulled the defence out of shape before a quick handpass to Ronan O'Neill on the openside of goal who stroked home calmly. O'Neill had only been on the pitch for two minutes and this was his first touch.
The position of the pressbox in Clones is one that affords a view of the street, which was thick with red and black colours flooding out within seconds.
They may be a breed of Gaelic football supporter that will never suffer from an inferiority complex, but they are realists too. In the sapping sun the game drifted on, Tyrone applying more and more pressure as a host of substitutes were introduced. Peter Harte took charge of a sideline that was worked to Darren McCurry and his flighted ball caught O'Hagan out as it landed on O'Neill's breastbone.
With Cunningham advancing off his spot, O'Neill produced a delicate chip, the ball bouncing just on the line and then gently billowing the net.
The flood of Down fans became an exodus.
Tyrone: N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann 0-1, P Hampsey 0-3, P Harte 0-2, 1f; C Cavanagh, C McCann 0-1; D Mulgrew 0-1, N Sludden 0-1, K McGeary: M Bradley 0-2, S Cavanagh 0-2, 1f, M Donnelly 0-3.
Subs: D McCurry for S Cavanagh (48), R O'Neill (2-0) for Bradley (53), C Meyler for Mulgrew (55), C McShane for C McCann (58), L Brennan (0-1) for Sludden (66)
Yellow cards: S Cavanagh (35), McCarron, (29, 68)
Black cards: McGeary (37, replaced by D McClure),
Red cards: McCarron (68)
Down: M Cunningham 0-1f; N McParland, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; D O'Hanlon 0-4, 3f, C McGovern, C Mooney 0-3; K McKernan, N Donnelly 0-1; P Turley, C Maginn 0-1, S Millar 0-1; J Johnston, C Harrison, R Johnston 0-2
Subs: D McKibbin 0-1 for Turley (45), D O'Hare for J Johnston (48), M Poland for Millar (56), A Carr for Donnelly (58), S Dorman for Maginn (62),
Yellow cards: J Johnston (31), G McGovern (35), Turley (46), McKibben (68)
Black cards: McKernan (41, replaced by J Murphy 0-1)
Red cards: 0
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)