Battling Tyrone make most of Armagh dismissals after late start
Armagh 1-10 Tyrone 1-12
Tyrone took full control of their numerical advantage against Armagh to rattle off five points in the last 10 minutes to claim this impressively-contested throat-clearer for both sides in the Dr McKenna Cup.
A total of 8,463 fans eventually filed into the Athletic Grounds to see a game that was thrown up half an hour late, due to a lack of staff at the turnstiles.
No matter what they say about post-Christmas cobwebs being blown off, the mild weather and a winter spent trading barbs across the Blackwater over their tempestuous qualifier game last summer made for a terrific appetite for this game.
The backdrop was coloured by Tyrone secretary Dominic McCaughey claiming that Armagh had engineered the row just as the aforementioned game began, while a few weeks back Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever said about opposite number Sean Cavanagh: "Sean had plenty to say about us after the Cavan game... that hasn't gone unnoticed."
At it happened, McKeever's spot of all-in wrestling in the small parallelogram with Cavanagh earned him a red card on eight minutes.
Colm Cavanagh's contribution to the same unseemly melee cost him his further participation also, with both teams now down to 14 men.
The game would finish with 19 cards flashed in total, owing more to the conditions and some fussy refereeing.
"I think there was a lot of cards flashed and maybe a different referee mightn't have as many," said Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.
"If you read this in the cold light of day, you'd think this was an awfully difficult game and very bad tempered, but it wasn't. Bar a spill at the start, there wasn't really anything of note that you'd say this was a very dirty or rough game."
His opposite number Kieran McGeeney had more reason to be perplexed given he lost Finian Moriarty and Aaron Findon in the second half to second yellow cards.
"Again, that's a bugbear of mine because we don't have a tackle in Gaelic football," he reflected.
"People keep telling me we do, but I am yet to be convinced. Sometimes what is a free one week isn't a free another."
His side had the better of things after that scuffle. Four points from frees and two from play had them leading 0-6 to 0-5 at the break.
At the back, Tyrone looked anything but assured, with panic tackling best exemplified in Ryan McKenna's black card hand trip on Eugene McVerry at the end of the first quarter. The sooner Matthew Donnelly comes back into this sector the better.
Indeed, their best defender throughout was the returning Cathal McCarron, the 2013 All-Star nominee who has endured some very public troubles in the past year.
Harte was delighted, saying: "We've seen him since he came back to join us in training, he's in great form and great shape.
"He is a very good defender and for not having played football for so long at that level, he adapted very quickly. If he continues to progress that way, he'll be a serious asset to us as the season goes on."
Despite Armagh looking the more composed, Tyrone managed to hang in and took the lead 10 minutes after half time when persistence from Sean Cavanagh - excellent in full-forward against Findon - gifted Aidan McCrory a goal attempt.
He slotted it past Matthew McNeice in the Armagh goal, who had only been on a matter of minutes following an injury to Niall Geoghegan.
With Jamie Clarke operating as a sweeper joining the attack, Armagh hit back within four minutes.
Clarke's ball-carrying skills were to the fore as he inched upfield before a Niall McConville threaded pass found McVerry in splendid isolation to place past Niall Morgan for a goal to regain their three-point advantage.
Two Darren McCurry points put pressure on Armagh as they headed for the straight and a Peter Hughes point from a tight angle levelled it up before debutant Cathal McShane stepped up to gain the advantage. A final score arrived from a McCurry free.
We are out of the blocks. And that's the main thing.
ARMAGH: N Geoghegan; M McConville; S Sheridan, M Murray; M Shields, F Moriarty, C McKeever (C); A Findon, S Campbell; S Forker 0-1, M McKenna 0-3, E McVerry 1-3, 3f; G McParland 0-1, E Rafferty 0-1 f, N McConville. Subs: J Clarke for Rafferty, T Kernan 0-1, for McParland (both h-time), D McKenna for S Sheridan (43m), M McNeice for Geoghegan (47, inj), F O'Neill for N McConville (71m)
Yellow cards: Findon (8, 66), Campbell (34), Moriarty (36, 42), McConville (68)
Black cards: None
Red cards: McKeever (8), Moriarty (42), Findon (66)
TYRONE: N Morgan; A McCrory 1-0, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann, R McKenna, P Harte; C Cavanagh, P McNulty; PJ Lavery, K Coney, P Hughes 0-1; D McCurry 0-5, 3f, S Cavanagh (C) 0-5, 4f, S McGuigan
Subs: C McShane 0-1 for E McKenna (45), M Donnelly and N McKenna for Coney and McGuigan (50), R Brennan for Harte (63)
Yellow cards: S Cavanagh (8), McCann (11), Coney (20), Harte (32), McNulty (56), N McKenna (59), McShane (69)
Black cards: R McKenna (16) - replaced by D Quinn
Red cards: C Cavanagh (8)
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)