Merciless Tyrone too powerful for sorry Armagh
Tyrone 5-16 Armagh 0-7: Tyrone made it through to the Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals with a facile 24-point victory over neighbours Armagh. They face Derry on Sunday in the semi-final – again here in Omagh – which will be a curious dress rehearsal for the league opener between the two on February 2 at Celtic Park.
"It may be January" is the familiar refrain managers, supporters and players all sign up to. But one would already fear for an Armagh team that narrowly avoided relegation to the third tier of the National League last year.
Throughout his first season as Armagh manager, Paul Grimley repeated his appeals for patience while he moulded a young team, with the ultimate aim of handing it over to one of the 2002 All-Ireland-winning team.
With Kieran McGeeney on the sidelines now in Grimley's backroom team we can see the logical progression, but wonder have they the talent to reach the levels of their manager-in-waiting and his peers.
Throughout the game, Armagh were torn asunder.
Tyrone had clever movement in the forward line from the probing Shay McGuigan, Ronan O'Neill and the muscular Mattie Donnelly, who could have had four goals instead of his one, being denied by the post on one occasion.
His marker Charlie Vernon is not the answer to Armagh's long-standing full-back problems whenever Brendan Donaghy is absent.
Donnelly drew four fouls from the Armagh Harps man in the opening quarter.
Conan Grugan had a close range effort directed wide and there was a sense Armagh's defences were straining.
On 16 minutes the first goal came, a delightful ball inside – providing evidence that Shay is worthy of the McGuigan family name – to Donnelly who laid off to the marauding Ciaran McGinley who hammered to the roof of Philip McEvoy's net.
It was 21 minutes before we caught a glimpse of Jamie Clarke with the ball, shielding it cleverly from Barry Tierney before a flick pick-up and a race towards goal, putting clubmate Kyle Carragher in a good position, but he overcarried in possession.
Shortly after Donnelly torched Vernon again, burrowing past and drilling a low shot to the net, while a string of points from Peter Harte, Emmet McKenna, McGuigan and frees from Paddy McNiece and Niall Morgan left Tyrone ahead by 2-10 to 0-4 at the interval.
Armagh's response came as frees from Ethan Rafferty and Tony Kernan, with a brace of Carragher scores.
Any chance of them staging a comeback was scudded in the first minute of the second half when Ronan O'Neill's improved physical power took him right into the heart of the defence. The ball squirted loose and PJ Lavery was on hand to apply a neat soccer-style finish to the net.
Within 10 minutes a couple more classy points were added by Peter Harte and McKenna, while Donnelly was fouled as he raced through on goal, pulled back by Ethan Rafferty in one of those borderline black card decisions that are set to dominate the narrative of the year ahead.
Referee Ciaran Branagan pinged him for the foul and gave the penalty, with which Peter Harte sent McEvoy the wrong way, rolling it to the left of an empty net.
The best goal of all was to come three minutes from the end however. PJ Lavery found far too much room than is healthy in the inter-county game and ran through the middle, before potting a shot into the top left corner of the net.
Armagh contributed only three points throughout the second half but this game might just represent their biggest defeat in a competitive game in their history.
In the coming months they will need Ciaran McKeever, Brendan Donaghy and Aaron Kernan in defence.
Further upfield, the attack looks entirely lightweight. Clarke will always be a threat, his audacity in rolling the studs over a ball before a pick-up at one stage here a lovely slice of what he can do. But for the entire game he was isolated, while Tyrone's midfield dominated throughout.
Yes, it may be January, but these were two teams clearly travelling in different directions.
Tyrone: N Morgan 0-1, 1f; A McCrory, R McNamee, B Tierney; C McGinley, P Harte 1-2, 1-0 Pen, R McNabb; D McBride 0-1, C Grugan 0-1; E McKenna 0-2, S McGuigan 0-1, PJ Lavery 2-1; P McNiece 0-2, Mattie Donnelly 1-1, R O'Neill 0-4, 2f. Subs: C Clarke for Tierney [42m], P Quinn for Donnelly (51m), H Gallagher for McNabb (54m), K Campbell for McNamee (56m), K Gallagher for McGinley (60m), T McCann for Grugan (61m)
Armagh: P McEvoy; A Mallon, C Vernon, P Hughes; M Shields, T Kernan 0-1, 1f, C Rafferty; E Rafferty 0-1, J Lavery; E McVerry, S Campbell 0-1; R Tasker 0-1, K Carragher 0-2, J Clarke, N McConville. Subs: K O'Rourke for McVerry (10m), B Mallon 0-1, 1f, for McConville (34m), J Hanratty for Kernan(42m), C MacÍomhair for Carragher (46m), C McCooey for Hughes(51m), S Kelly for C Rafferty (63m)
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down)