NFL Division 1: Down 1-8 Tyrone 1-11
Fifteen yellow cards, a couple of flare ups along the line and a plethora of head-high challenges. Who needs the championship when you can have the league?
After Tyrone restricted Down to 1-1 in the second half to muscle their way to victory, there was, let's just say, a ‘coming-together' of bodies involving the management of both teams. It was getting hot and heavy for a while.
“That's to be expected. There was a lot at stake here,” reflected a satisfied Mickey Harte.
“It's a passionate game and feelings run high. At the end of the day when it is all over you shake hands and you move on. It's just one of those things,” said a deflated James McCartan.
While Tyrone's young guns came through a serious test, Down also have reasons for optimism given their weakened hand.
Their injury concerns became an even more of a grave concern before the match, when they were robbed of two players down the left flank; Darren O'Hagan and Paul McComiskey.
In their place came Benny McArdle and Donal O'Hare, while Justin McMahon made his first start for Tyrone since the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin, coming in for Plunkett Kane.
In a first half that often threatened to bubble over with heavy hits and a frenetic pace, Down tied up Tyrone's key men in the opening half. They kept Mark Donnelly, Stephen O'Neill and Peter Harte scoreless as they attacked relentlessly down the flanks. Ryan Mallon had a hand in almost everything good for Down in that period, hitting two points.
Before his brace of points, Down had edged themselves five points to two in front with two points from Benny Coulter, one a delightful shot on the spin, and an effort from Connaire Harrison and two frees by O'Hare.
Stephen O'Neill almost had a goal in the 12th minute when a lovely ball from Ronan McNamee, and an exchange of passes with Conor McAliskey put the captain through, only for him to thump the post.
Goalkeeper Niall Morgan kept them in touch with two frees, and their cause was not helped when referee Barry Cassidy was lenient to the already yellow-carded Kalum King when he clawed at Joe McMahon around the neck and face on 23 minutes.
For all that they struggled though, they went in at half-time only two points down.
Referee Cassidy attracted too much negative attention, reflected in Harte's comments afterwards when he said, “We talk about consistency — I have not seen it yet and I certainly did not see it tonight. I would challenge anybody to look at a video of that game and tell me the decisions were delivered consistently.”
His counterpart McCartan was glib when it was suggested to him that the officiating was inconsistent, he replied, “You can describe it any way you want. I have other words for it but I will keep them to myself.”
Tyrone began turning the screw with an early O'Neill point at the first breath of the second half.
Minutes later Sean Cavanagh gave a lovely disguised pass to Ryan McKenna who had his shot saved at point blank by Down netminder Michael Cunningham.
O'Neill and then the hugely-impressive Conor Clarke levelled matters with points, before substitute Martin Penrose combined with McAliskey to put Mark Donnelly through to hit the net.
Down answered back instantly, Donal O'Hare palming a Harrison centre home. Though that was to be their last score of the match with 20 minutes left.
Clarke, a Sean Cavanagh free, and a superlative free from the right touchline arrowed over by O'Neill forced the Tyrone advantage as Joe McMahon and Conor Laverty both saw red for second yellow cards.
DOWN: M Cunningham; D Turley, D McCartan, R Boyle; R Mallon (0-2), A Carr, B McArdle; K King, K McKernan; K Quinn, M Poland [Capt], B Coulter (0-2), C Laverty, C Harrison (0-1), D O'Hare (1-3, 3f). Subs: Costello for Turley [29m], McComiskey for King [52m], Garvey for Mallon [52m], P Turley for Quinn [58m], R Kelly for Poland [65m]
TYRONE: N Morgan (0-2, 2f); A McCrory, C Gormley, C McCarron; R McKenna, J McMahon, R McNamee; P Kane, S Cavanagh (0-2, 2f), K Gallagher, P Harte, Matthew Donnelly; C McAliskey (0-2), S O'Neill [Capt] (0-3, 1f), Mark Donnelly (1-0). Subs: Clarke (0-2) for McNamee [31m], Penrose for Gallagher [46m], Ronan O'Neill for McAliskey [60m], McNiece for Donnelly [71m]
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).
Belfast Telegraph Digital