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'Tyrone can't be labelled as defensive': Mickey Harte welcomes high-scoring win over Antrim

Antrim 2-09 Tyrone 2-23

Finisher: Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann scores a goal during Saturday night’s victory over Antrim in Armagh
Finisher: Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann scores a goal during Saturday night’s victory over Antrim in Armagh

By Paddy Tierney

A first half tour de force from Tyrone sent the Red Hands careering to a provincial semi-final meeting with Donegal at the expense of a gallant Antrim side at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday evening.

Antrim were completely written off before throw-in, but Tyrone boss Mickey Harte paid the Saffrons the ultimate compliment of lining out as close to a full-strength team as he could manage.

"I think we needed to put out a good performance as early as possible," said Tyrone boss Harte.

"The longer they stayed in the game, the more oxygen it was giving them to believe they could cause an upset.

"We wouldn't be happy about conceding a couple of goals and we'll have to take a look at it and see how we stop that from happening again, but we got quite a good score so we can't be labelled as being defensive."

With a first half tally of 1-16 that would win many a game, Tiernan McCann capped a show of strength from Tyrone with a sublime goal after 27 minutes.

That strike put last year's All-Ireland finalists 10 clear at 1-10 to 0-3 and the writing was on the wall for Antrim.

The only negative for Harte in a dazzling opening 35 minutes was the black card issued to Ben McDonnell for a cynical foul on Paddy McBride as the St John's clubman cut through on goal.

In the closing stages of the half, Tyrone stretched their advantage to 14 points with further scores from Niall Sludden, Richie and Matty Donnelly, McShane (free) and a '45 from goalkeeper Niall Morgan.

Antrim's supporters were given something to cheer about the stroke of half-time when Ryan Murray fired over a brilliant effort, but it was to be an exercise in damage limitation for the Saffrons as they trailed 1-16 to 0-5 at the break.

With one eye on the Ulster semi-final, Harte withdrew Mattie Donnelly along with Peter Harte and McShane, who had brought his tally to 0-6 before being called ashore.

To their credit, Antrim put a touch of respectability on the scoreboard with two well-taken quickfire goals.

Paddy McCormick beat Morgan with a fine finish after a great solo run from Matthew Fitzpatrick on 47 minutes. Antrim's second goal was also created by the industrious Fitzpatrick as he collected a kick-out from Padraig Nugent and off loaded to McBride.

The pair tore through the Tyrone rearguard at pace before McBride transferred possession back to Fitzpatrick who tucked his shot along the ground and into Morgan's right-hand corner.

If the first three goals were superbly executed, the game's fourth and final goal was, arguably, the pick of the bunch.

A direct ball from Richie Donnelly found substitute Connor McAliskey at full-forward who gave Antrim's defence no time to get a tackle in by rifling a shot off the underside of Nugent's crossbar and into the net to move Tyrone 2-21 to 2-7 ahead.

A late Kyle Coney point wrapped up the scoring and ensured that 14 different players contributed to the Tyrone tally, with 14 points being the margin between the sides at the full-time whistle.

Antrim: P Nugent; P McCormick (1-0), R Johnston, P Gallagher; P McBride (0-2, 0-2fs), D Lynch, N Delargy; C Duffin, S Beatty; J McAuley (0-1), M Fitzpatrick (1-0), K Quinn; R Murray (0-6, 0-5fs), J Smith, O Eastwood.

Subs: R McNulty for Smith (HT), E Walsh for Eastwood (45), R Scott for Quinn (52), M McCarry for Beatty (55), J Mallon for McAuley (63), C Mallon for Walsh (73).

Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1, 0-1 45); HP McGeary, R McNamee (0-1), R Brennan (0-1); T McCann (1-0), P Hampsey, M Cassidy (0-1); C Cavanagh, B McDonnell; M Donnelly (0-3), N Sludden (0-1), F Burns (0-1); C McShane (0-6, 0-3fs), P Harte (0-1, 0-1fs), R Donnelly (0-3).

Subs: C Crugan for McDonnell (Black card, 25), A McCrory for Hampsey (HT), C McAliskey (1-2, 0-1f) for Harte (41), D McCurry (0-1) for McShane (41), K Coney (0-1) for M Donnelly (41), C McCann for Sludden (54),

Referee: M Deegan (Laois)

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