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Red Hands end trophy drought in final thriller

Tyrone 1-16 Down 1-12

By Paddy Hunter

Redemption! Tyrone were crowned Ulster women’s intermediate champions — a first piece of silverware for the O’Neill county since 2009 after several years in the doldrums.

Gerry Moane took the reigns of Tyrone at the start of the national league campaign. No one wanted the job at St Tiernach’s Park, and he could hardly speak with emotion after the victory.  “We have girls on that team today that wanted to be here, now they have got their reward. It’s so special for some of the older girls in the side. Tyrone have waited a long time for this.”

To their credit, Down, inspired by Aileen Pyers, were always in this game, they battled hard and created chances but at the cutting edge though they just lacked experience like a key forward. In Niamh O’Neill, Tyrone had just that, the young full-forward finished with 1-7 from play and Down’s Pyers 1-5, 1-1 from play.

In the end it was a massive step on the road to redemption for the Red Hands.

Tyrone held a one-point half-time lead after both sides enjoyed periods of dominance in an entertaining opening half.  Tyrone were missing captain Neamh Woods but it certainly didn’t affect their game.

Tyrone built a head of steam and led 0-6 to 0-1 after ten minutes, penetrating runs from the half-back line from Christiane Hunter, Tori Mc Laughlin and Cathy Donnelly opening up Down time and time again.  Emma Smyth and Laura Shavlin traded early points before five points for Tyrone without reply.

Smyth, Maria Canavan ,Niamh O’Neill and midfielder Meabh Mallon added to the Tyrone tally. Down regrouped, coming more and more into the game. Aileen Pyers and Kate McKay got the scoreboard moving for them, Tyrone responded. A long ball from Hunter was collected by Smyth who in a neat one two teed up Niamh O’Neill for the opening goal.

Down didn’t panic, they upped the tempo and enjoyed plenty of  ball. McKay and Pyers closed the gap and they were right back in it when Chara Laverty was upended . Pyers slotting home the penalty with Grainne McClean adding an equalising point.

O’Neill scored a late brace , Pyers one for Down and Tyrone led by one at the break.

Down had a chance moments after the restart when Mairead Kavanagh’s effort skirted the goal line and was cleared. Points traded again with O’Neill and Smyth, Pyers and McClean all finding the range. Tyrone pulled away again, Emma Hegarty scored an outrageous point and O’Neill left three between the sides.

Pyers,and after a patient build-up, McKay closed the gap, once more  Tyrone responded with the nippy Smyth and O’Neill again raising white flags with four minutes to go. This time there was no Down comeback as Tyrone, after five wides in quick succession, latched on O’Neill and Teri McCusker points to seal a place in the quarter finals. A great display from both sides, entertaining with several years of senior experience helping Tyrone to an historic first intermediate title.

Tyrone: S Lynch, K Quinn, J Barrett, E Quinn, C Hunter, C Donnelly, T McLaughlin, S Quinn, M Mallon 0-1, C McNabb, E Smyth 0-5, E Hegarty 0-1, M Canavan 0-1, N O’Neill 1-7, G Rafferty. Subs T McCusker 0-1 for G Rafferty, C Mc Cann for C Donnelly, S Sheerin for S Quinn.

Down: C McCarthy, L Mason, C Kearns, L Morgan, A Greene, L Sharvin 0-1, C Laverty, K Mc Kay 0-2, J Magee 0-1, G McClean 0-2, L Cunningham 0-1, A Pyers 1-5, N Mc Kibbon, A Wood, M Doherty. Subs M Kavanagh for A Wood, N Johnson for N McKibbon, C Byrne for G McClean, S McCann for K McKay

Referee: Conor Duorneen (Cavan).

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