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Tyrone are top class in McKenna Cup

Tyrone click into gear to clinch four-in-a-row joy

By Declan Bogue

So accustomed have we grown to Tyrone lifting the Dr McKenna Cup into a January night sky that these triumphs have to be contextualised.

Are they a confidence boost? For sure. Did they audition a few new players? Again, another box ticked.

But when it came to dragging Tyrone out of the mire of an underwhelming first-half display it was the familiar faces of Mattie Donnelly, Colm Cavanagh and Darren McCurry who played the role of the cavalry as they eventually won by six points to clinch the crown for the fourth consecutive year.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte was patient enough to recognise he had time to rectify things.

"Cavan came here to win, and it was very evident from the first 35 minutes," he commented afterwards.

"We had to change the script and change the attitude and they had to become better players. And I think we showed in the second half that when we play at our best, it's good enough to win. But certainly they were the superior team in the first half."

With one point from play in the entire first half, Harte watched his side attempt to run the ball through the eye of a needle, before being overturned or blown up for taking too many steps in possession.

By contrast, Cavan were organised and benefited from a stiff breeze. They left Niall McDermott and Martin Dunne up front and every other man in blue took up their defensive roles.

When they broke, Mark McKeever and Dara McVeety would run the ball at pace. Michael Lyng picked off the occasional pass and Martin Reilly floated in dangerous crossfield balls that Dunne fed off, scoring four first-half points, three from play.

By the time Dunne put Cavan up by double scores, 0-8 to 0-4 on 23 minutes, he was played in for a goal chance by Niall Murray but skewed wide.

Only for Sean Cavanagh converting his frees, Tyrone were in serious bother up front, although Niall McKenna was routinely burning past his marker Joshua Hayes, eventually leading to his substitution. Two more frees from Kyle Coney and Cavanagh had Tyrone four adrift at half-time, 0-10 to 0-6.

On came a trio of subs. McCurry played a deep role picking passes out to team-mates in wide positions. Donnelly offered his customary power and presence and Colm Cavanagh went straight on Killian Clarke and reduced his influence.

Freed from his tracking duties in midfield, Tyrone's season debutant Padraig McNulty skittled a number of Cavan defenders on his way through to score the first point of the half.

He added another one a few minutes later and when he went on another foray it took three Cavan defenders to eventually foul him into submission, while McCurry converted the award.

A snipe from Ronan O'Neill got the ball to McKenna who set up McCurry to level the game with 15 minutes to play.

The next score arrived two minutes later, and with it being a goal, put Cavan out for the count. Donnelly began the move, O'Neill took a wind with his left foot that hung in the air and when it broke off Sean Cavanagh, McKenna was alert to the break and finished it gently in the corner.

Another brace of points from McCurry was enough to provide a decent cushion.

Two goal chances for Cavan went begging. Dunne was threaded through on 50 minutes by McDermott but he didn't seize the opportunity and fisted wide.

Another half-chance arrived eight minutes later, but his shot was blocked by Cathal McCarron. By the end, Cavan had failed to score anything in the second half.

Harte was still keen on emphasising the lessons from the evening.

"If you get a bit of a scare and if you're over-run a bit, and you still have a chance to salvage something from it, we ought to learn something from that," he said.

"But I wouldn't like to go through a first half like that again. We were just second best on most occasions."

Cavan manager Terry Hyland was phlegmatic after losing his second McKenna Cup final in a row to Harte.

"Whether it's the fear factor or what," the Lacken man said, "we created chances and gave away the ball, it wasn't that we weren't getting attacks. We probably just didn't believe in ourselves enough. That's something to work on."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph