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Tyrone let lead slip in Croke Park draw

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

TYRONE came so close to ending Dublin's 30-game unbeaten run, but with just 14 men, were unable to hold on at Croke Park, and came away with a well deserved point from a thriller.

Dublin ...0-10
Tyrone ...1-7

A gripping contest played in atrocious conditions produced drama and thrills, and prime entertainment for the big crowd in attendance, with the Red Hands showing that they have what it takes to challenge the All-Ireland champions.

The dismissal of Mark Bradley on 50 minutes, with Tyrone five points ahead at that stage, proved a major turning point, and the visitors were unable to halt their opponents' rousing comeback.

Had Tyrone not hit a large number of wides, they would surely have taken both points from this hugely competitive NFL Division One tie and taken the outright lead at the top of the table.

Niall Sludden turned in a man of the match performance, with goalkeeper Niall Morgan also making a big contribution with a penalty save from Dean Rock.

“I can't take anything away from the players who worked their socks off in difficult conditions. Of course, Dublin aren't in the form that they'll be in later in the year and there's plenty of reasons why they weren't on song as normal," said Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

“They were still good enough to be very difficult to defeat and that's why they're so difficult to beat.

“A draw is a good result now looking back, although it's a point lost when you look at how we were five points up. It would have been cruel on us not to get at least a point because our performance deserved that and nobody would have begrudged us the win.

“You always know that you're under threat against Dublin no matter how many points you're up against them because they're a quality side and capable of turning things their way in an instant," he said.

Harte referenced the dismissal of attacker Mark Bradley as a major setback which affected his side adversely in the latter stages of the game.

“The sending off of Mark Bradley didn't help us because it's hard enough to play with them 15 never mind 14 players. We were a bit wayward in some of our finishing and if we'd been a bit more clinical in that regard then we could have been in a better position.

“It was a very difficult last 10 or 15 minutes for us and full credit to the players for hanging in there.

“You can't afford to be down to 14 against the best team in the country and a man down is a huge challenge against them.

“We could ill-afford that and I feel that Mark Bradley got the wrong end of the stick, I don't think he would have been starting anything and I don't think what he did was a sending off offence."

Harte saw many positives on a night when his team made a big statement of their intent for the season ahead.

“Niall Sludden's score-taking was brilliant against a very good side. Declan McClure had a great game last Sunday and is a real bonus for us now. The way he's playing at the minute he's putting his hand up to be considered for every game.

“I'm always happier when we're creating chances and the idea is to take the lion's share of them and we're not doing that at the moment. Some of that is down to the defensive pressure, but there were a number of scores that would normally have been expected to be put away.

“Dublin haven't got the game behind them like other counties including ourselves, but you know that they'll be back stronger and will take some beating. They have gained confidence from being so successful and the number of players who are fighting for a place.

“I don't make much of the black card because it is so inconsistently administered that it's so frustrating. To think that Tiernan McCann got one tonight and I saw other events which were in my eyes worse than what he did. It's frustrating for me and the players."

Dublin came at Tyrone in the early stages, but some solid play from Cathal McCarron and Padraig Hampsey kept them out.

The Red Hands opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a Peter Harte free, and despite some good work from Justin McMahon, the defending league champions went level when Philly McMahon pushed forward to notch a score.

Goalkeeper Niall Morgan did well to pluck a high dropping ball from the sky, and the Red Hands broke from their disciplined defensive formation again for Conor Meyler and Harte, from another free to add to their tally.

But they lost Tiernan McCann to a black card, and a handful of wides deprived the Ulster champions of the opportunity to extend their lead, and the Dubs rallied for Dean Rock to convert a free.

With Colm Cavanagh sweeping to great effect, and Ronan McNamee and Hampsey continuing to stand firm against Dublin attacks, a spell of pressure was brought to an end, and Sludden returned after being treated for a blood injury to kick two wonderful scores, easing his side into a three points lead.

Jonny Cooper's score made it a two point game at the break, Tyrone ahead by 0-5 to 0-3, and they continued to hold the opening hand during the dramatic early stages of the second half, with Declan McClure getting his name on the score-sheet.

Dublin were awarded a penalty for a foul on Kevin McManamon, but Morgan rose to the challenge, pulling off a brilliant save from Rock's kick.

Sean Cavanagh was now in the game as a half-time substitute, and in the 46th minute, Tyrone grabbed a goal, a cool finish from defender Aidan McCrory, who slid the ball past Stephen Cluxton.

But the Red Hands were reduced to 14 men four minutes later when Mark Bradley was shown a straight red card by referee Joe McQuillan following an incident involving Jonny Cooper.

That was a crucial incident, and in the remaining 26 minutes of play, the visitors managed just one more score, while their opponents kicked five in a row.

Rock knocked over another free, before Ciaran Kilkenny became the first Dublin attacker to score from play.

Sludden had another fine effort disallowed following a Hawk-Eye review, but the Dubs swept forward again, and not even a packed Tyrone defence could halt their charge, with Braian Fenton and Rock narrowing the gap to just a point.

Six minutes of injury-time proved too long for 14-man Tyrone to hold out, and in the 74th minute, Rock brought the defending league champions level from a long range free.

Dublin: Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper (0-1), Philly McMahon (0-1), Michael Fitzsimons, James McCarthy, John Small, Jack McCaffrey, Brian Fenton (0-1), Michael Darragh Macauley, Colm Basquel, Ciaran Kilkenny (0-1), Niall Scully, Dean Rock (0-6), Eoghan O'Gara, Paul Mannion.

Subs: Eric Lowndes for Basquel, Kevin McManamon for Macauley, Ciaran Reddin for Mannion, Davy Byrne for McCaffrey, Jason Whelan for Small, Dermot Daly for Cooper.

Tyrone: Niall Morgan, Padraig Hampsey, Ronan McNamee, Cathal McCarron, Tiernan McCann, Aidan McCrory (1-0), Justin McMahon, Colm Cavanagh, Declan McClure (0-1), Conor Meyler (0-1), Niall Sludden (0-3), Peter Harte (0-2), Mark Bradley, Cathal McShane, Darren McCurry.

Subs: Rory Brennan for McCann (BC), Sean Cavanagh for McShane, Johnny Munroe for McMahon, David Mulgrew for Meyler, Conall McCann for McCurry, Padraig McNulty for McClure.

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