Red Hands win Dr McKenna Cup yet again

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Red Hands win Dr McKenna Cup yet again thumbnailColm Cavanagh slots home Tyrone’s first goal

TYRONE routed Derry to hold on to the Dr McKenna Cup for a remarkable sixth successive season, coasting to a comfortable nine points win in a one-sided final at Pairc Esler.


A cohesive and positive performance laid solid foundations for this weekend's league opener against Roscommon, and sent confidence in the cam soaring as the Red Hands prepare for a return to Division One.

After the opening 15 minutes, there was only one side that looked capable of winning this title decider, played out in front of 4,618 spectators at the Newry venue.

Tyrone were head and shoulders above their opponents in terms of movement, intensity and game management.

Colm Cavanagh smashed home a 17th minute goal to help the holders build up a 1-7 to 0-2 lead by the halfway stage.

Peter Harte netted a 48th minute penalty, and scores from Mattie Donnelly, Ronan O'Neill and Mark Bradley made it an impossible task for Derry, for whom Mark Lynch top-scored with four converted frees. 

“It's great that we turned around a first day defeat (to Cavan) that didn't look pretty when it happened to us," said manager Mickey Harte.

"We picked up a lot of injuries and it wasn't a good day for us, but I think there's great resilience in the boys, they rolled up their sleeves, had a fight for a semi-final place.

“As it ended up, we topped the group. I didn't think that would happen after Cavan beat us, and then we had a good semi-final win last week, and this was another good win for us."

Tyrone fielded a team mixed with youth and experience, but had a bench packed with seasoned campaigners who made a difference late on.

“There was a lot of experience on the bench and it was good to have that, and still we got to give a lot of new players quite a bit of game time as well," Harte added.

“That's ideally what you want out of the McKenna Cup, giving game time and still getting results, and we have managed to balance that pretty well for the last five or six years.

“And that's the challenge always, to be competitive, to give new players a chance and still be in the competition as long as possible."

Even when Tyrone opened out a comfortable lead, Harte was concerned that Derry might have a spell that would bring them back into the game.

“We were very conscious that the last time we lost the McKenna Cup final, in 2011 against Derry, and they were 1-7 to two points up at half-time, and the next time they scored, we were 1-8 to 1-7 up, so if that was able to be done by us back then, we had to be in our guard that they wouldn't do the same for us.

“So it was critical that we would start well, and Conor Meyler's point at the start of the second half was just exactly what we needed to not let the gap close, but widen it before it got a chance to close. And that's what happened, and I think that's what kept us ahead of the game."

And it was crucial that the Oak Leafers missed a goal chance just after Colm Cavanagh had fired in Tyrone's first three-pointer.

They needed that to give them some sort of foothold in the game. The fact that it didn't go in and we survived that, I think it was a bit turning point in the game, and from there on I think we grew in confidence and that shook their confidence a bit."

But Harte insisted that this game will have no bearing on the Ulster Championship clash of the teams at Celtic Park in May.

“If you play any team, you want to beat them, and if you're playing a team that you're going to play in the championship, then it is important that you perform well.

“It doesn't necessarily say that anything is going to happen in the championship, but I always say that I'd rather be winning than losing, and there'll be different teams out in May when it comes to the championship.

“It's a different venue, it's in Derry's back yard, they'll want to make right what we did last year, so I do expect that it will be a much closer encounter than it turned out to be, and obviously Derry will learn from this tonight as well."

Emmet McGuckin and Ronan O'Neill traded early points as two experimental sides struggled to settle in a scrappy opening spell.

But with Mark Lynch searching for openings, it was the Oak Leafers who looked the more threatening.

Unafraid to commit men forward, they crafted a series of chances, but a string of wides frustrated their efforts, and Tyrone went level through Declan McClure, after Lynch had converted a free.

The Red Hands stifled their opponents with a familiar massed defensive formation, and Mattie Donnelly's solid block on Neil Forester launched the move which saw Padraig McNulty send midfield partner Colm Cavanagh in for a rare goal, blasted past Thomas Mallon in the 17th minute.

Derry almost responded in kind, but Niall Loughlin smashed his shot against the crossbar, and Tyrone rallied again for All-Star pair Peter Harte and Donnelly to shoot them into a 1-4 to 0-2 lead by the 22nd minute.

Mark Bradley could have had a second Red Hand goal, but settled for a point as the margin continued to grow.

Derry skipper Enda Lynn and Lynch dug deep to inspire their flagging team-mates, but it was a virtual shut-out against a composed and supremely well organised opponent.

Goalkeeper Mallon came to Derry's rescue with a quality save from O'Neill, but a couple of tidy Mark Bradley points sent the Red Hands in with a 1-7 to 0-2 lead.

Lynch steered over a couple of frees as the Oak Leafers began the second half with a flourish, with Ryan Bell launching a fine score from play as well.

Lynn tracked back to help his side deal with the Red Hand raids, but Derry could do nothing to prevent Donnelly from launching another long range special, nor could they deal with the movement which saw Cahir McCullagh apply a silky finishing touch for a 1-11 to 0-5 advantage with 45 minutes played.

It didn't get any better for Derry, who conceded a penalty when Ronan O'Neill as hauled down, with Harte tucking away the kick to put the outcome well beyond doubt.

The Oak Leafers did grab a consolation goal through Niall Loughlin, but this was a difficult night, with the start of the league just a week away.

Tyrone - Niall Morgan, Aidan McCrory, Justin McMahon, Cathal McCarron, Padraig Hampsey, Mattie Donnelly (0-2), Peter Harte (1-2), Colm Cavanagh (1-0), Padraig McNulty, Declan McClure (0-1), Niall Sludden (0-1), Conor Meyler (0-1), Mark Bradley (0-2), Cahir McCullagh (0-1), Ronan O'Neill (0-2).

Subs - Darren McCurry for Bradley, Sean Cavanagh for C Cavanagh, Conall McCann (0-1) for McCullagh, Ronan McHugh for Harte, Cathal McShane for Sludden.


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