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Tyrone leave it late to beat off brave St Mary’s

Tyrone 1-16 St Mary’s 1-11

By Declan Bogue

Two down and two wins secured for Tyrone, as they go chasing a seventh consecutive Dr McKenna Cup after this win over St Mary’s.

But, with less than 10 minutes remaining at frostbitten Coalisland, a ball was sent in towards the Tyrone defence. It looked like a nothing pass until a series of players left it to each other, Tyrone goalkeeper Michael O’Neill missed it completely and it improbably bobbled towards the net only for Aidan McCrory to boot it off the line.

At the time, the home side were a mere two points in front of a St Mary’s team that, although have lost many of their Sigerson Cup winning team from last February, remain impressively drilled and hungry, under the thoughtful coaching of Paddy Tally, who of course was such an important part of Harte’s coaching ticket for their first All-Ireland winning team of 2003.

“It wasn’t easy,” acknowledged Harte of the challenge they were faced with. “I said that after we beat Antrim, we would meet more stubborn opposition today, because they are a side that plays together a lot and they are a side that have a good, cohesive unit and they have a good system of play.

“So, I knew it would be difficult to play against them. Having said that I think we created enough chances in the first half to have the game more safely tucked away in our favour but we didn’t take those chances and it was a fight to the end.”

St Mary’s made all the early running, springing 0-3 to 0-0 ahead after seven minutes.

At midfield, Tyrone goalkeeper Michael O’Neill’s kickouts were being gobbled up by three big Ranch men across the  middle in the shape of Liam Devlin, Jarlath Óg Burns and Man of the Match Óisín O’Neill.

Harte picked a team with a few fresh faces that showed up well, in particular such as Ciaran McLaughlin, who did a superb marking job on his Omagh St Enda’s clubmate Conor Meyler — the two of them indulging in a little afters at one stage in the second half — Ben McDonnell of Errigal Ciaran at midfield, and Ronan McHugh who set up captain on the day Peter Harte for a glorious goal chance but he palmed over from close range on 10 minutes to open the home scoring.

It was with a similar move, the ball going through the hands of Ronan O’Neill, Harte and McDonnell before he squared for the incoming McLaughlin to slap home on 22 minutes for Tyrone to take the lead.

Jarlath Óg Burns then grabbed the initiative when he intercepted O’Neill’s kickout intended for Ronan McNabb and he advanced to cooly slot home.

Four unanswered points from Tyrone then set the tone for the rest of the match, which will be filed under the sub-heading of a ‘useful workout.’

“A game like this, if it is a victory you are going for, sometimes that can be unrealistic,” reasoned Paddy Tally afterwards.

“So you have to be very clear about what you are trying to get out of the performance and that today was about getting boys up to that level of football and I thought they acquitted themselves very well.”

As the second half wore on, Tyrone reached for reinforcements, sending on new captain Matthew Donnelly along with Tiernan McCann, Frank Burns and Niall Sludden to see the game out. In tricky conditions, Tyrone did what they had to do, although they missed the attacking edge of Peter Harte, who was dismissed on a black card after a number of small flare-ups against Óisín O’Neill.

With Cavan’s loss to Antrim, it seems likely that Tyrone will take full points out of Kingspan Breffni on Wednesday night and make their customary way to the semi-finals, which will be hosted on Sunday.

“It’s what we wanted to do,” said a satisfied Harte.

“We want to keep winning games and leave the qualification to the semi-finals in our own hands and we have that at the minute.

“We need a result on Wednesday night to put that beyond doubt but it is good for the McKenna Cup that this is a serious game on Wednesday night again.”

TYRONE: M O’Neill; A McCrory, C McCarron, M Cassidy; C McLaughlin 1-0, R McNabb, P Harte 0-4, 2f, 1x ‘45’; B McDonnell 0-1, D McClure; R Donnelly, C McCann, K McGeary; R O’Neill 0-4, 1f, R McHugh 0-3, C McAliskey

Subs: N Sludden 0-1 for McHugh (Blood sub 36-42m), P Hampsey for McNabb (44m), M Donnelly 0-1 for R Donnelly (44m), N Sludden for McAliskey (44m), M McKernan 0-1 for McCarron (51m), T McCann 0-1 for McLaughlin (67m)

Yellow cards: Hampsey (61m)

Black cards: Harte (47m, replaced by F Burns

Red cards: 0

ST MARY’S: M Reid; K Mallon, J Hannigan, M Rooney; C Byrne, C McConville 0-1, L Rafferty; L Devlin, O O’Neill 0-5, 2f; S McConville 0-1, C Meyler, J Óg Burns 1-0; C Convery, D Kavanagh 0-3, 1f, A Boyle

Subs: C McKeever for Boyle (h-time), PJ Drake for Rafferty (44m), C Carr for Devlin (56m), J Colton for Convery (67m). G Walsh for Byrne (67m), R McSherry for Rooney (69m)

Yellow cards: 0

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).

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