Tyrone hang on to book their place in semi-finals
Tyrone's love-affair with the Dr McKenna Cup is still thriving now that they have arrived in the semi-finals yet again having got the better of Armagh at the Athletic Grounds last night by 3-18 to 3-15.
Afterwards manager Mickey Harte said that in what was a high-scoring match both sets of forwards had underlined their finishing power.
"It was always close and we never felt that we were that far ahead. We certainly did not intend that it should have been such a high-scoring game, certainly in the context of what we conceded," said Harte.
Niall Sludden was the man of the match for the Red Hands in a game which was played in front of 5,200 fans and which underelined the magnetic appeal of both counties in terms of their ongoing rivalry.
Tyrone blooded several players but still included a layer of experience that stood them in good stead.
Tyrone were the more constructive side in the first-half, patiently building from the back and stretching the home defence to the limit.
Riann O'Neill goal in the 13th minute hoisted the Red Hands into a 1-4 to 0-3 lead with Armagh being restricted to occasional forays as the visitors played with greater confidence and cohesion.
Yet Armagh's tenacity allowed them to remain in contention and with Rian O'Neilll very much to the fore in the scoring stakes, the orchard county slowly but surely pegged Tyrone back to a three-point lead (1-6 to 0-6).
But in a blistering three-minute spell Mickey Harte's side took a firm grip on the contest. A Kieran McGeary point in the 27th minute was followed by an out of the blue second goal from Ronan O'Neill before the impressive Ronan McHugh fired over a further point to project Tyrone into a handsome 2-8 to 0-6 lead.
But Armagh were thrown a life-line when a long-range free from Rian O'Neill eluded the Tyrone defence and goalkeeper Niall Morgan and entered the net to reduce Tyrone's interval advantage to 2-8 to 1-7.
But the real fireworks came in the second-half when a Niall Sludden goal looked to have eased Tyrone into a more comfortable position only for Stefan Campbell to convert an Armagh penalty.
From then on it was rip-roaring stuff with Tyrone opening up a six-point gap at 3-14 to 2-11 before yet another recovery by the home side saw Rory Grugan smack in a third goal for the home side but the Red Hands held out to win by 3-18 to 3-15.
Donegal got the better of Derry by 1-10 to 0-6 aand will now meet Monaghan in the semi-finals, the second meeting between the sides this month, while Down, who beat Antrim last night, will face a stiff task against Tyrone who look to be on course for their twelfth trophy success since 2004.
Donegal topped Section A and qualified for a semi-final meeting with Monaghan after a five point win over Rory Gallagher's Derry at Celtic Park.
The first half in this contest was one to forget. Donegal ran in 0-4 to 0-2 up, but like their opponents, offered very little spark in attack. Michael Langan opened the scoring with a free after three minutes, which Ryan Bell soon replied from play. Donegal's Paedar Mogan would hit two points before the break, sandwiching a huge Emmett Bradley score.
Caolan Ward's 56th minute goal was the key score of the second half as Donegal cruised to a comfortable win.
Down's win over Antrim last night means that they ended up top of Group C. They were well worth their 2-17 to 0-15 victory which helped to underline the fresh depth of talent that manager Paddy Tally has in his side this season.
Tally has given several new players a chance already this month and will welcome a third competitive fixture for his side in advnace of the Allianz League.
The Dr McKenna cup semi-finals will be played this Sunday with the venues still to be confirmed.