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Tyrone burn off Cavan in boiling Brewster

Tyrone 0-18 Cavan 1-12

Heat of battle: Tyrone’s Niall Sludden scrambles past Cavan’s Sean McCormack
Heat of battle: Tyrone’s Niall Sludden scrambles past Cavan’s Sean McCormack
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

For a time in the middle of the second half, it looked as if Tyrone were finally about to be toppled by a Cavan side who hadn't got the better of the Red Hands in Championship football since 1983.

None of the present players were born then of course, but it felt that with victory in sight they suddenly realised the enormity of what was evolving on a baking hot night in Enniskillen - hotter than Rio by way of interest - and human error crept like a thief in the night into their play after Gearoid McKiernan's magnificent catch, give and go and thump over the bar had brought them level 10 minutes into the second half.

That came just straight after the goal that ignited the game, a clever diagonal ball in from Conor Bradley with Martin Reilly reaching it just before Tyrone goalkeeper Mickey O'Neill to palm it into the net.

But as they tend to do - Tyrone have now won 17 out of 20 games in the qualifiers over the last decade - they kept their composure and the contribution of second-half substitute Ronan O'Neill guided them home.

"You have to give full credit to Cavan. They were up for the game and with 10, 15 minutes to go it was anybody's game," acknowledged Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

"The fact was they looked the team most likely to push on. You have to give them serious credit for making a fight of it.

"This was a great way to go through, we are really pleased to get a game like that and go through. Whichever of the two teams to get through were going to benefit from that game. There was no walk in the park, nobody had any time off. You were on your toes all the time and it was a great battle."

Tyrone are now through to Round Four of the All-Ireland qualifiers. They have travelled a hard road since their meek performance in losing to Monaghan back in May, but there have been enough tests to show them where they are for July.

In the Brewster Park stands was a familiar face in Ryan McMenamin. The current Fermanagh selector was taking notes on future opposition as Tyrone are one of only two sides they can draw for round four, that fixture being matched live on radio on Monday morning.

What he will have seen, won't surprise him. Harte has been rotating goalkeeper duties between Niall Morgan and Mickey O'Neill since they went into the qualifiers and insisted here that Morgan will be his man for Round Four, come what may. O'Neill's failure to deal with Reilly's goal might have come into his thinking anyway, but he has made his bed for now.

And they threatened to get away in the smoke on Cavan, who hung in there by their fingertips at times, but contributed to a richly competitive game that was worthy of Ulster derby status.

Connor McAliskey threatened on a number of occasions but the bounce literally didn't work out for him twice. His replacement Ronan O'Neill shone however, and the man who Harte took off after sending on as a substitute against Monaghan is displaying huge reserves of character.

"He made a good change," said Harte.

"He is a good player, a clever player and he has good vision. Skeet (McAliskey) had one of those days when things didn't go right for him but he gave it to us in different ways with his workrate. That's what players are for, some people will be there for the beginning of the game, some will be there to finish it off. When you are playing as many games as this you need a good panel and it is good to have."

Tyrone jumped into an early lead before Cavan found a bit of joy when they got their powerful men on the ball and heading direct for goal, they got a few scores here and there.

As the half progressed, they choked up that central channel and restricted Cavan's scoring. They took a much-needed half-time break in front 0-9 to 0-5.

Cavan were a transformed side in the early stages of the second half and turned an already broiling hot afternoon on the Factory Road into a furnace.

The teams traded blows but a couple of slips here and there, a misplaced pass, and Cavan fell away. Tyrone turned on the afterburners and compiled a quartet of consecutive points - O'Neill responsible for two of them, and they survived.

"Last week was a real Championship match and today was a real Ulster Championship match, and I can't fault the boys," said Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan. "I'm absolutely proud of everything they've done. That was a roasting hot day and they gave everything for the jersey and that's all you can ask of any player."

McGleenan is a candidate for the most positive man in Gaelic football, but even his good humour was tested when it was put to him that his side only get two frees in the entire first half.

"I was very disappointed with two or three refereeing decisions," the Eglish man stated.

"Caoimhin O'Reilly, three men mowed him down and he was given for over-carrying and they went up the field, the Tyrone player was cute enough and went down and got a 21-metre free-kick.

"Those are the things that cost you, you need that wee bounce of the ball at that particular stage.

For Harte, he knows the slings and arrows better than most. His side can said to have survived another minor scare, but he and them are the great survivors.

"A wrong decision could have cost you the whole game and we thought once or twice we did that, taking the wrong option," he said.

"When they came back and got a goal, we were looking comfortable enough.

"When they got the goal the whole momentum went to them and we were under pressure. I think that is a mark of the calibre of these players.

"We were under the cosh against Meath and battled through it. We battled out of that too against the breeze. We have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be grateful for and it is a work in progress."

TYRONE: M O'Neill; P Hampsey, R McNamee, M McKernan; T McCann 0-2, F Burns 0-2, P Harte 0-2f; C Cavanagh, D McClure; M Donnelly 0-2, N Sludden 0-3, C Meyler; C McShane 0-2, R Donnelly 0-1, C McAliskey 0-1f

Subs: R O'Neill 0-3, 1f for McAliskey (44m), K McGeary for McShane (54m), H Loughran for McClure (65m), C McCarron for McKernan (66m), C McCann for Meyler (71m), R Brennan for Sludden (73m)

CAVAN: J Farrelly; E Flanagan, K Brady, F Reilly; C Brady 0-1, C Moynagh 0-1, M Reilly 1-0; G McKiernan 0-5, 2f, K Clarke 0-1; S Johnston 0-1, C Mackey, O Kiernan 0-1; C Bradley, D McVeety 0-2, N Murray

Subs: S McCormack for Clarke (35m), A Cole for Mackey (H-Time), P Faulkner for Murray (43m), J McLoughlin for Flanagan (43m), Mackey for K Brady (63m), C O'Reilly for Johnston (63m)

Referee: David Coldrick (Meath).

Attendance: 6,000.

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