Harte happy to salute Cup kings
Armagh 0-14 Tyrone 0-16
A couple of years back, Derry and Tyrone played a McKenna Cup final here that yielded 16 cards, a couple of them red and plenty of sparks to light up the nightsky.
This one, another win for Tyrone, again in the January competition, almost got to that level with 14 cards shown in total, three of them red.
Armagh came heavy armed and determined to see where they can be ahead of the National Leagues beginning next weekend. At times they boarded on rash, with 18 fouls committed in the first half alone and four of the starting six defenders booked in the same period.
But that flinty resolve served them well and brought them to within a missed opportunity of a penalty kick away from getting something more out of the match.
The penalty came with five minutes of normal time left. Tyrone had edged two points ahead by that stage after falling 0-4 to 0-1 in arrears after the opening 10 minutes.
A pass across the face of goal ended in the grip of Jarlath Óg Burns who put Stefan Campbell through. His shot was trickling past Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan when Kieran McGeary touched the ball on the line. After consulting with the umpires, referee Joe McQuillan signalled a penalty.
By that stage, Jamie Clarke had been substituted and while Rory Grugan's shot was powerful, it kissed the crossbar as it flew over, rather than under.
Another mass wrestling match two minutes later, the third of its' kind in this match, saw Tyrone full-back Ronan McNamee and his Armagh counterpart Aaron McKay dismissed on straight red cards. Such were the tempers at this stage that even when leaving the field there was an echo of the famous Kevin Keegan-Billy Bremner Charity Shield incident at Wembley from oh, many decades ago now.
Another Grugan point from a free put the minimum in it again, but one of the new rules was to have a huge bearing on the final result. A long raking pass from substitute Kyle Coney - surely one of the players on Mickey Harte's extended squad who will not have to unduly worry about the imminent cull of the panel -was gathered by Cathal McShane and called for a mark, which McShane nailed in the fifth minute of time added on. "Is it 15 seconds you are allowed to take for the mark and the last one was 30 seconds?" asked Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney, not unreasonably.
"It is typical of us, we make rules, we set them out and then we ignore them."
All in all, the McKenna Cup was a success for both managers. Armagh have got a lot of football into legs that needed it and can draw enough positives to sustain themselves.
Tyrone's campaign was interrupted by a team holiday to Thailand and still they managed to lift the bit of tin without going flat out.
An unusual circumstance came about that Tyrone's physical trainer, Peter Donnelly, ended up being named as their reserve goalkeeper, the new number two Benny Gallen away on Sigerson duty.
"Competitive, intense, there are plenty of words to use for it," said their manager Harte (above) afterwards.
"But that is to be expected, you have to deal with that and the good thing is that our players coped with that atmosphere and some of them are new to it and still played football."
Armagh's team included nine that played Championship football against Roscommon in that Portlaoise thriller last year, along with the returning Stefan Campbell and Jamie Clarke.
Tyrone's Darren McCurry claimed man of the match with nine points, eight of them frees and will go some way to offsetting the loss of Mark Bradley and Connor McAliskey at least in the early stages of the 2019 league.
"We knew reading the programme and seeing the players that have come in of late that they were in a strong place and they are getting ready to play Kildare next week, and that is not an easy mission," said Harte.
"So I think they wanted to be as competitive as possible and had plenty of their players out there and we respected that.
"We weren't short of a few players ourselves, we had some experienced players so it was a good challenge for both of us."
Tyrone now have a trip to Kerry to open their league and this week is one that any triallist dreads.
With the sight of Conor Meyler, Matthew Donnelly, Kieran McGeary coming off the bench, along with Coney and Darragh Canavan, there will be disappointed men among the Bushes this week.