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Boss Harte is thrilled as his Red Hands book place in Cup decider

Down 1-10 Tyrone 2-16

In control: Ronan O’Neill of Tyrone gets away from Down ace Gerard Collins
In control: Ronan O’Neill of Tyrone gets away from Down ace Gerard Collins
Tyrone’s Ben McDonnell is challenged by Sean Dornan
Boot in: Tyrone ace Darren McCurry knocks over one of his six first-half points in the victory over Down
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Tyrone booked their place in yet another Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup final by virtue of this win over Down in yesterday's semi-final at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh but for a period in the second half they were made to look decidedly uneasy in the face of a spirited recovery by their opponents.

The Red Hands were the complete masters in every facet of play in the first half but for the greater part of the second period they played second fiddle to Paddy Tally's side before regaining their poise in the closing minutes to embellish their winning margin.

Manager Mickey Harte gave his side's performance some context when he said afterwards: "You are never going to totally dominate a game and I think that the effort which the boys put in over the course of the first half took a bit out of them.

"I think when you consider that this was the third game which we have played within the period of a week we did not do too badly."

Harte expressed his hope that the game time which his players have been afforded to date will stand them in good stead when the Allianz League gets under way at the end of this month.

"These matches can prove valuable no matter what some people might think and the fact that we have been able to use a number of players in a competitive environment allows us to judge the overall resources we have," said Harte. "We have always taken the McKenna Cup seriously and we are delighted to be in another final. This gives us a further competitive game.

"Obviously we have some experienced players missing at this point in time so it's important that others are given the chance to step up."

Buoyed by a Conall McCann goal in the third minute, the product of a quickly-taken free by Niall Sludden, Harte's men imposed a vice-like grip on their opponents, who were suffocated every time they attempted to break forward.

With the impressive Darren McCurry potting the first of what was to be his six first-half points in the fourth minute, Tyrone proceeded to dismantle the Mourne County defence with clinical efficiency.

Sean Dornan and Conor Poland may have provided Down with the briefest of breathing spaces when they landed a brace of points between the sixth and eighth minutes, but by the end of the first quarter the O'Neill County were 1-5 to 0-2 ahead.

With McCurry and Ronan O'Neill joining goalscorer McCann in torturing the Mournemen defence, the scores flowed freely and by half-time Tyrone had assembled an emphatic 1-12 to 0-4 advantage.

But it was a different Down in the third quarter in particular.

Donal O'Hare, Pat Havern, Poland and Darren O'Hagan whipped over points before Cory Quinn cracked in their goal in the 55th minute.

When Ross McGarry tacked on another point, Down were very much back in business at 1-13 to 1-9 and indeed might well have been in an even healthier position had they not contrived to shoot a litany of wides.

Indeed, some of their missed chances were from what were relatively straightforward scoring positions and this certainly did nothing to enhance the morale of the side as they attempted to pull the semi-final showdown out of the fire.

Instead, Tyrone got their second wind and after goalkeeper Benny Gallen converted a '45', Ronan McHugh fired in their second goal and Ronan McNamee closed their scoring with a final long-range point.

They might have made hard work of the second half but few will be prepared to bet against Harte's men making it the round dozen of McKenna Cup triumphs under his baton in Saturday's showpiece against Monaghan.

Down manager Paddy Tally conceded that his team's penchant for conceding possession rather too easily in the first half had allowed Tyrone to mount counter-attacks which more often than not culminated in scores against his men.

"I must say that I was disappointed at the amount of ball we turned over," admitted the Down boss.

"We made things hard for ourselves in the process and then after we had recovered in the second half we allowed Tyrone to get a foothold in the game again and they were able to close it out."

Tally still believes that the McKenna Cup campaign has benefited his side as they prepare for their Allianz League mission.

"We can take positives from our games. We have players who are becoming adjusted to inter-county football which is encouraging," said Tally.

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