Tyrone in seventh heaven after McKenna semi win.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

HOLDERS Tyrone are through to another Dr McKenna Cup decider after coming through a dogged, bad-tempered semi-final at Brewster Park.


Referee Ciaran Branagan flashed eleven yellow cards and a red in the course of a game that simmered from start to finish, with a number of flare-ups and flashpoints punctuating a scrappy encounter.

Fermanagh were reduced to 14 men in first half stoppage time, but defended courageously, conceding just two points in the second half.

However, they lacked the penetration to trouble a Red Hand side that held on for the win and a place in the final against either Donegal or Armagh.

"It was a good game to win, because that will stand to you come later on in the year," said man of the match Conall McCann.

"It's good to get a real battle, for that will put us in good stead for league games, because the weather will probably be similar to that. We'll look forward to that."

McCann paid tribute to the discipline and doggedness of Fermanagh's defensive effort in the second half, when they dug deep to restrict the holders to just two points.

"Credit to Fermanagh, they're really hard to play against, and especially with conditions.

"The pitch wasn't great either, and with the way Fermanagh set up, they were very hard to break down, and credit to them, because I think we only scored two points in the second half, out of a total of eight. It just shows you the progress that they have made.

"For us, it was just about getting through to the final by whatever means possible, and thankfully we did that, and we're grateful to have got another game." Fermanagh had defender Kane Connor sent off on a second booking just before the break, but they defended heroically from there to the finish.

"It's only certain teams you play against that you can find kick passes, but when teams play a lot of men behind the ball it can be very difficult at times," McCann added.

"That's another thing we have to work on, breaking down defences that have a lot of men back, but thankfully we have few months to get that right before the championship.

"It's a work in progress, and we'll take it game by game. we've got another game in the McKenna Cup, and it will be good preparation for the first National League game in two weeks time."

Manager Mickey Harte has had a look at a large number of players in the four McKenna Cup games against Antrim, St Mary's, Cavan and Fermanagh, and faces a selection headache as he looks ahead to the NFL opener against Galway on Sunday week.

"He must have a headache picking the team, because some boys are showing really well, and that's not to mention four or five Jordanstown that are coming back in as well.

"Boys have claims to stake and they want to get their place on the team. It's good for him that he has so much to choose from, but from the players' point if view, it's very hard to try and get on this team and keep you place.

"So it's important that the McKenna Cup is used as a place where people can show their expertise.

"I don't envy his job in picking the team every week, because it's very difficult to pick fifteen men out of thirty five.

"We have four good wins now, and every game there have been boys who have played well. You think that they're flying, and then you go to the next game, and they mightn't have as good a game.

"So it's very hard for him to pick, and it's very hard as a player to impress him, because there's 30-odd men doing the exact same, and that basically is what the McKenna Cup is about for us, trying to get boys into that frame of mind that they can play in the league, play in the championship, so we're just happy to get another game so we can show what we're made of, and some of the squad players, including myself, can stake a claim for the league.

McCann was not impressed by the condition of the Brewster Park pitch, which was heavy and demanding, making it impossible for the players to move swiftly over the ground.

"I don't think I have played on a worse county pitch, to be honest, in term so underfoot. there was no bounce and it was very hard to run on. it's not a good pitch.

"You're used to running, in training, on a decent pitch, but when you go out and run on that, it's very difficult, and there was the rain and the wind, and stop-starts from fouls and stuff like that. It just wasn't a good game to play in."

Fermanagh pressed strongly in the opening stages, but it was Tyrone who had the game's first big chance. Corner back Michael Cassidy fired in a shot which was blocked by a defender, and as the ball ran loose, Ronan McHugh attempted a cheeky back-heel, but his effort was kept out by the trailing boot of goalkeeper Pat Cadden.

Declan McClure edged the Red Hands in front in the eighth minute, and seconds later, his Clonoe club-mate Connor McAliskey doubled the advantage from a free.

Ciaran McLaughlin pressed forward to provide the assist for a superb McAliskey score from distance, but that three points lead was wiped out in as many minutes as the Erne men burst into life.

Aidan Breen claimed their opener in the 12th minute from a tight angle, before Conall Jones sent Barry Mulrone in for another, and it was Seamus Quigley who brought the sides level from a free.

Tension was never far from the surface as players clashed in a series of flashpoints, with referee Ciaran Branagan resisting the use of cards until he booked Fermanagh's Ryan Lyons and Tyrone defender Hugh Pat McGeary on 19 minutes.

The final 25 minutes of the half produced just two scores, both of them for the holders.

McCurry clipped over another free, and Niall Sludden's superb pass sent Richie Donnelly in to hit the target.

Deep into stoppage time, Fermanagh suffered a heavy blow when defender Kane Connor, who had already been booked, received a second yellow card, and his side, trailing by 0-6 to 0-3, had to play the entire second half a man down.

The home side, however, narrowed the gap within a minute of the restart when Declan McCusker sent Ryan Jones in for a point, but that was to be their final score, as a dogged second half was played out with the home side defending almost constantly.

They did so superbly at times, restricting the holders to just two points, but were unable to find the necessary penetration to get themselves back into the game.

McCurry steered his third free between the posts, but they had to wait 26 minutes for their next score, a brilliant Ronan O'Neill effort.

Fermanagh pressed strongly in the closing stages for the goal they so desperately needed, but Ryan Jones was denied by a brilliant Ronan McHugh block.

Tyrone: Mickey O'Neill; Aidan McCrory, Hugh Pat McGeaery, Michael Cassidy; Ciaran McLaughlin, Mattie Donnelly, Kieran McGeary; Ben McDonnell, Declan McClure (0-1); Richie Donnelly (0-1), Niall Sludden, Conall McCann; Darren McCurry (0-3), Ronan McHugh, Connor McAliskey (0-2).

Subs: P Hampsey for HP McGeary, Peter Harte for McAliskey, Padraig McNulty for McDonnell, Ronan O'Neill (0-1) for McCurry, Michael McKernan for R Donnelly, Ronan McNabb for M Donnelly

Referree: Ciaran Branagan (Down).


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