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McCurry on fire as Red Hands rap out a Cup warning

By John Campbell

It may have been Tyrone's first incursion into the competitive sphere since their All-Ireland quarter-final exit at the hands of Mayo, but Mickey Harte's side displayed hunger, determination and graft in equal measure to ultimately deflate Lough's gusty challenge at Plunkett Park, Crossmaglen yesterday.

In doing so, the Red Hands once again thrust themselves into rather familiar territory - a cup final.

On Sunday next they will meet neighbours Armagh to decide where the O'Fiaich trophy will reside for the next 12 months and the fact that this confrontation will ask more pointed questions of his side clearly pleases Harte.

"We had a very experimental side out in this game against Louth and I suppose we played a good bit of football in the first half but we did not really begin to shake them off until Ronan O'Neill got our first goal," insisted the Tyrone boss. "A goal is always a great settler for any team, it takes the anxiety out of getting the result."

"We knew when we got that goal that we might get the result and the players opened up and played a bit better. But I think we will need some more power to deal with Armagh. It's hard to ask new players to play consistently well at a high level when you don't have the experienced players to support them through that."

Certainly, Tyrone's more mature campaigners stepped up smartly to the mark yesterday. Darren McCurry took the lion's share of the honours by scoring 1-9, Ronan O'Neill acted as playmaker and finisher in compiling 1-2 and Conor Clarke underlined his value to the side by making a robust return to action after missing out this year.

Louth's tenacity ensured that the Red Hands were largely contained in the first half and only a late flurry of scores from Cathal McShane, Lee Brennan and the ever-accurate McCurry allowed the team to enjoy a 0-10 to 0-6 advantage at half time, Jim McEnaney proving Louth's chief source of scores from frees.

But when O'Neill was in the right place in the 41st minute to flick home the winners' first goal, they began to exhibit an air of authority and poise that was to cushion them until the final whistle.

Louth substitutes Ronan Holcroft, Declan Byrne and Pauric Rath proved their worth by contributing half of their team's total while Paraic Smith worked hard at centre-half forward and Andy McDonnell and Conor Martin tried hard in the central area.

A quartet of Tyrone newcomers - Ruairi Mullan, Michael Cassidy, Declan McClure and Cahair McCullagh - took advantage of the opportunity to give manager Harte that they might just have something to offer but with a raft of top-class players still to come into the reckoning they will have their work cut out to remain in the selection frame.

"This was the first game of the new season and there was always going to be instances of bad handling and maybe poor shot selection but I could not fault the lads for their effort," stated Harte.

Tyrone's ability to hit the Wee County on the break proved decisive, never more so than in the final quarter when they racked up 1-6 with Louth only able to muster a brace in response.

"This was a good opportunity to have a look at new players and it also afforded us the chance to make it into the final against Armagh next week and that's something to which we will look forward," added Harte.

"I think the fans, too, will relish the game and I believe there will be more of a turn-out for this fixture.

I think there will be a good atmosphere as there is always is at Tyrone versus Armagh games."

"I like this particular competition because we don't play challenge matches so every game we play is of a competitive nature and I am just delighted that the O'Fiaich Cup now gives us two games before the McKenna Cup."

"No training sessions can compare to the benefits that might accrue from this match against Louth and I hope the same applies to our meeting with Armagh."

Tyrone: M O'Neill; R Mullan, H P McGeary, M Cassidy; C Clarke, N McKenna, J Munroe 0-1; C McShane 0-3, D McClure; C Meyler, R O'Neill 1-2 (1f), K McGeary; D McCurry 1-9 (6f), C McCullagh 0-1, L Brennan 0-2. Subs: R McHugh 0-1 for K McGeary (Half-time), F Burns for McCullagh (64 mins). Yellow cards: R O'Neill (18), H P McGeary (49).

Louth: N Gallagher; A Williams, J Bingham, K Carr; D Maguire, J Stewart, L Dullaghan; A McDonnell 0-1, C Martin 0-1, C McKenna, P Smith 0-1, C Branigan 0-1; J McEnaney 0-3 (3f), G McSorley, T Durnin. Subs: P Rath 0-1 for Stewart (17), D Byrne 0-2 for Durnin (39), R Holcroft 0-4 (3f) for McEnaney (42), D Marks for Dullaghan (49), T McKenna for Martin (55), D Finn for Carr (61). Yellow cards: Byrne (49). Black: Stewart (17).

Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).

Tyrone2-19

Louth0-14

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