Tyrone rally to sink Derry
Tyrone 2-13 Derry 1-13: Tyrone held on against a spirited Derry challenge in Omagh to make it to the 10th Dr McKenna Cup final of Mickey Harte's stewardship, when they face Cavan in Saturday's decider in Brewster Park.
There was a temptation after the first quarter of this game to start believing that the new model Tyrone were exempt from weaknesses, but after the Derry midfield dug their heels in and manager Brian McIver made a few adjustments, their neighbours across the Sperrins showed up some deficiencies.
That manifested itself most clearly in how many goal chances Derry spurned. Had they taken half of them, they would have won this game comfortably. In contrast, Tyrone were economical in front of goal, mining two goals from four clear-cut chances.
Their first came in the very first play of the game. Conan Grugan palmed the throw-in down the Niall McKenna (pictured) who flighted a ball inside to the ever-available Connor McAliskey.
It was worked rapidly through Emmet McKenna, Grugan again, to put Niall McKenna through after he hared after his initial pass. His opposite number Niall Holly did not track his run, leaving the Donaghmore man with the time and poise to rifle high past Thomas Mallon.
McKenna was to fist over a minute later, his two scores bookending a Darren McCurry free, while McCurry and McAliskey tacked on further points to leave the score 1-4 to 0-0 after the first 15 minutes.
Derry were winning minimal possession in midfield, although a ball hung up in the air by Aaron Kerrigan was fluffed by Tyrone goalkeeper Michael O'Neill, the ball cleared off the line by Conor Clarke.
Despite that, Declan Mullan's pace was beginning to trouble Clarke and he stole in for a point, just after setting up Ger O'Kane for his score, before Fergal Doherty reminded us of his abilities with a strong point on the run.
As half-time loomed, Aaron Kerrigan was sent through on goal by a quick free-kick, but it came to nothing.
Mallon was to produce a strong hand to keep out a drive at goal from Grugan moments later and a late O'Kane point left Derry four points adrift at the break.
The game became a remarkably open contest, tit-for-tat scores throughout the second half.
O'Neill produced another excellent stop from Kevin Johnston before Ciaran McGoldrick converted the loose ball into a point.
Almost instantly, a long ball from Grugan left an aerial contest between Mattie Donnelly and Dermot McBride, who slipped, forcing Mallon to trip the Tyrone attacker. This prompted referee Shaun McLaughlin to signal for a penalty, yet no black card.
Tyrone captain Peter Harte, for the second time in five days, sent a goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot to leave the margin at seven points.
McCurry was still finding room at the other end and was now shredding Oisin Duffy as he clipped another his fifth point of the afternoon.
McIver responded by sending on experienced campaigners Mark Lynch and James Kielt and both men were to have a major influence from their introduction in the 50th minute, Derry outscoring Tyrone 1-4 to 0-3 for the remainder of the game.
Kielt hit a rousing point and converted a free, while in between Mullan had sent Emmet McGuckin through on goal, who took it too wide and ended up lofting it.
McGuckin would atone for that mistake with five minutes left when another sub, Benny Heron unselfishly fed him and he flicked to the net to leave a goal between them, Kielt having clipped over his third point in 11 minutes since coming on.
Tyrone attacks become sporadic raids, yet all the same yielded points from McCurry, Grugan and sub PJ Lavery.
A Lynch point again left a major score between them with one minute left, and as the clock ticked down, McGuckin threaded the ball through to Kielt, who with the goal at his mercy, blazed wide.
These sides will meet again at Celtic Park in the opening match of National League.
Tyrone will be delighted that they managed to carve a win out of a game that they were dominated in during the second half, and also have the comfort of another game and a final to look forward to.
TYRONE: M O'Neill; R McKenna, C Clarke, R McNamee; T McCann, P Harte (Capt) 1-0, 1pen, R McNabb; N McKenna 1-1, C Grugan 0-1; K Gallagher, P Hughes, E McKenna 0-1; D McCurry 0-6, 2f, M Donnelly, C McAliskey 0-3. Subs: B Tierney for McNamee (13m), C McGinley for McCann, McNamee for McNabb (half-time), S McGuigan for Gallagher (58m), R O'Neill for McAliskey (63m), PJ Lavery 0-1 for McNamee (60m). Yellow cards: McNabb (35m), McNamee (58). Black cards: Donnelly (70 – no subs left).
Derry: T Mallon; O Duffy, D McBride (Capt), M McShane; C Kielt, M Craig, K Johnston; F Doherty 0-3, N Holly; G O'Kane 0-2, E McGuckin 1-0, SL McGoldrick; C McGoldrick 0-2, D Mullan 0-1, A Kerrigan. Subs: B Heron 0-1, 1f, for McShane (half-time), A McAlynn for Craig (43m), M Lynch 0-1 for Holly, J Kielt 0-3, 1f, for C McGoldrick (50m), P Bradley for Doherty (60m), C McFaul for O'Kane (63m). Black cards: Bradley (67 – no subs left).
Referee: Shaun McLaughlin (Donegal).