Tyrone men bow out with a whimper as Armagh bloom
Tyrone 0-10 - Armagh 0-13
Could it realistically be a surprise for Armagh to come to Healy Park and win this game?
It depends from what angle you approached the game. In other years, league form could be used as a useful guide. So might previous meetings between the two sides and, in that regard, Tyrone's 24-point win back in January's McKenna Cup was an emphatic signpost.
But something has eaten Tyrone ever since their collapse in Killarney to Kerry. For a start, they have become too familiar with the sapping feeling of lethargy.
One might have thought the sight of Orange jerseys in Healy Park could have stirred some dormant passions, but here's news for you; it's not what it used to be.
By half-time, Tyrone fans must have had their heads in their hands. Playing with an orthodox six forwards, they yielded only one point from play in that sextet through Kyle Coney.
The second half only brought one more point from play, through Niall McKenna. They tried six subs, but got no scoring return there either.
In fact, they should really have been buried here, with Niall Morgan pulling off a string of brilliant saves to keep them in the game. His best came in the first half when Jamie Clarke – so deadly in these situations – had his shot deflected by Morgan's foot after eight minutes.
Seven days previous, Armagh were clearly second-best in the Ulster semi-final replay to Monaghan. Many would have felt they were in for further pain here, but they have deeper reserves of character than that.
They showed that from the first whistle here, a number of mini-scuffles kicking off the evening and, once referee Cormac Reilly had everyone settled down, after producing yellow cards for Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly and Armagh's Aidan Forker.
The visitors opened up an early gap, Tony Kernan accounting for four of their first five scores from the dead ball. Niall Morgan hit a free in the fifth minute for Tyrone's second point but between that and injury time of the first half they had only one more score – a Sean Cavanagh free.
That same man swung another brace of frees over just before the half concluded to leave an ill-deserved two points in it at the break.
But their fate felt already decided. Armagh had cleverly placed Aidan Forker on Mattie Donnelly and he kept wide throughout the first half. It left Donnelly out of position for overlaps or else taken out of the action. By the time he took Tony Kernan down in a challenge on the half hour, Reilly awarded him his second yellow card and Tyrone were down a man.
At half-time Tyrone sent for Stephen O'Neill and he drew a couple of frees from James Morgan, who can consider himself fortunate to have got away without a second yellow. After his second foul, Orchard boss Paul Grimley had seen enough and replaced him with Aaron Kernan, who would go on to add composure in a sweeping role.
With those frees and a Niall McKenna point, Tyrone briefly hit the front before Andy Mallon pegged them back.
Patient ball-holding from Jamie Clarke, who rode four challenges by Tyrone defenders yet refused to concede possession, helped to shepherd the ball to Stefan Campbell to grab the lead again and it was pushed out by an Aaron Kernan free.
Armagh were dangerous and a knifing run along the endline from Kyle Carragher ended up with a smart handpass to Mark Shields who was straight in front of the Tyrone goal but he fluffed his kick.
Conor Gormley's control and mastery of the game was evident and his absence from the team during the championship will continue to puzzle. He used his experience to win a free off Ciaran McKeever that Darren McCurry converted, and after an Armagh kickout did not travel the requisite distance, McCurry slotted over the resultant free to leave the teams level with 22 minutes left on the clock.
Amazingly, that was the last Tyrone score. Clarke and Shields notched points over and the extra man began to tell in the final quarter. Mickey Harte introduced Martin Penrose, Mark Donnelly and Paddy McNiece, but Tyrone began to panic.
At the other end, Armagh were still sparing Tyrone's blushes. Replacement Ruairi Grugan nipped through the defensive cover but his effort was smothered by Morgan, while they racked up seven second half wides.
Grugan did chalk up a point to leave a goal in it with eighteen minutes to go and that was Armagh's last score.
Try as they might, Tyrone just could not engineer anything.
Tyrone actually went the last 26 minutes without a score and with only Mattie Donnelly's two yellow cards against them by the end, looked a team that have become easy to beat.
What will worry them most of all is that the much-vaunted talent flow from underage to the seniors seems to have run into difficulties.
Armagh meanwhile, keep on trucking.
TYRONE: N Morgan (0-1), 1f; A McCrory, R McNamee, PJ Quinn; R McNabb, Matthew Donnelly, Justin McMahon; C Cavanagh, S Cavanagh 0-5, 5f; E McKenna, K Coney (0-1), C McGinley; D McCurry (0-2, 2f,) N McKenna (0-1), C McAliskey. Subs: C Gormley for McGinley, B Tierney for McNamee (32m), S O'Neill for McAliskey (half-time), Penrose for Quinn (46m), P McNiece for E McKenna (54m), Mark Donnelly for Coney (62m)
Yellow cards: Matthew Donnelly, (1 & 30m)
Black cards: 0
Red cards: Matthew Donnelly (30m)
ARMAGH: P McEvoy; A Mallon (0-1), J Morgan, M Murray; M Shields (0-1), C Vernon, C McKeever; S Harold (0-1), A Findon; A Forker, K Dyas, S Campbell (0-1); T Kernan (0-4, 3f, 1x'45'), S Forker, J Clarke (0-3, 2f.) Subs: E McVerry for Dyas (half-time), A Kernan (0-1, 1f,) for Morgan (41m), A Carragher for S Forker (44m), R Grugan 0-1, for A Forker (54m), B Donaghy for T Kernan (62m)
Yellow cards: A Forker (1m), Vernon (6m), Morgan (24m)
Black cards: C McKeever (67m, replace by F Moriarty) Red cards: 0
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)