Best to date in the championship

June 12, 2012

● USFC Armagh 1-13 Tyrone 0-19

The opening half of the eagerly awaited clash of rivals Armagh and Tyrone at the Morgan Athletic Ground was easily the best championship action of the Summer thus far. With both managers Paddy O’Rourke and Mickey Harte adopting an offensive rather than a defensive approach to the game we were treated to an open contest of fast, free flowing football and time to marvel at two of the games current most talented assets Jamie Clarke and Stephen O’Neill.

In the end 14 man Armagh, who lost Kevin Dyas to two yellow cards in the space of a minute, with 14 minutes left on the clock, and the Red Hand visitors leading by 3 points but the home side never gave up and managed to draw level but it was the nuance of the experienced Tyrone players that got them over the line 0-19 to 1-13 with the home side regretting a dozen wides and the half-time loss of influential half-back Aaron Kernan to injury.

The game’s opening score came from a Brian Mallon free from in front of the posts, put the hosts in front after one minute but Joe McMahon punished a foul on his midfield partner Colm Cavanagh with the equalising score. Goalkeeper Pascal McConnell then made a great save to deny Brian Mallon a goal with a penalty claim from Jamie Clarke off a push by Dermot Carlin as they chased the rebound off the keeper waved away by referee McQuillan. Colm Cavanagh who was bossing midfield edged Tyrone into a sixth minute lead but three minutes later the game exploded to life. A great pass from Kevin Dyas found Caolan Rafferty who handpassed the ball to Aidan Forker who showed great composure in front of goals as he expertly placed his shot past McConnell to the corner of the net for the game’s opening goal. Crucially Armagh were not able to build on this three pointer as points from Cavanagh and Owen Mulligan restored parity once more.

The two number 13’s, Clarke and Penrose traded points before the ball fell kindly for a hitherto anonymous Peter Harte took full advantage of his good fortune to point the visitors back in front and the same player was then fouled allowing Mulligan to point Tyrone into a 0-7 to 1-2 lead after 19 minutes. The talents of Clarke ( a fantastic score from an acute angle) a trademark Stephen O’Neill dummy led to ( a fantastic score from an acute angle) feats which had the full house attendance enthralled. Kevin Dyas not adopting his expected sweeping role was proving very effective in attack and raced through for a point which cut the deficit to the minimum 0-8 to 1-4. Forker brought the sides level for the fourth time with ten minutes of the half remaining as he converted a free following a foul on Clarke. Once again it was the visitors who pushed on from this leveller by scoring the last 3 points of the half through Mark Donnelly, Penrose and corner back Dermot Carlin to go in at the short whistle 0-11 to 1-5 in front. Eight different Tyrone players got on the scoresheet in the first half

Ballymacnab’s Gavin McParland started the second half in place of the injured Aaron Kernan and made a telling contribution with two points inside 10 minutes of his introduction. A Penrose converted free opened the second half scoring but Mallon replied for the hosts following another foul on Clarke. Penrose stroked over a Tyrone free, before Clarke sidestepped his markers to register a point before the McParland ‘s brace reduced the arrears to just one point. All of Tyrone’s points in the third quarter came from Penrose frees as he took his personal tally to five and then delivered his sixth from play as Tyrone went 3 in front. It looked like the show was over for the Orchard County when Dyas saw red with 14 minutes left and a 3 point deficit. Johnny Hanratty, Charlie Vernon and John Kingham were used as Armagh emptied the bench to try and get back into the match. It worked as a Clarke pointed free for a foul on Hanratty was followed by another from a placed ball from the boot of Brian Mallon. Mallon then lofted over a 50 metre leveller as Armagh’s response to the dismissal was to score 3 points.

The game was in the melting pot with heartbeat racing at excessive rates but once again it was Tyrone who responded to the Armagh threat with Peter Harte regaining the momentum for his team with an exquisite point. Mark Donnelly went to ground easily under pressure from Brian Mallon leaving the peerless Penrose with the easiest of his seven points to date before the thorn in the Armagh defence throughout, O’Neill broke through for a great individual score to put a major score between the teams. A fifth Clarke point kept the home hopes alive but it was top scorer Penrose who put the game to bed with his eighth score of the afternoon.

While defeat was Armagh’s lot I feel that there were a lot more positives than negatives to be taken from the game. Armagh played a new brand of football adopting a lot less defensive minded attitude. Five of Tyrone’s eight second half points came from frees while Armagh managed 8 sceond half points themselves. As already pointed out at three crucial times in the game had Armagh not wasted the opportunity to get their noses back in front or push on from good positions the outcome might have been different. Armagh were not afraid to empty the bench which means that a bit of tweaking and personnel changes could see a good qualifying campaign to follow. There are a few players out injured and the championship qualifiers in the mix already have not shown to be any great shakes for Paddy O’Rourke’s men to fear. This latest defeat by Tyrone leaves a lot more encouragement than that from last year’s qualifier defeat. Armagh managed 1-13 without Stevie in the ranks and coming off second best at midfield, a score that a lot of supporters would have taken before throw-in. Debutant championship keeper McEvoy had not a shot to stop and O’Rourke’s faith in the youngsters was well rewarded with a very good showing that can be built on.

Armagh: Philip McEvoy; Andy Mallon, Brendan Donaghy, Declan McKenna; Aaron Kernan, Ciaran McKeever, Finian Moriarty; Kieran Toner, Malachy Mackin; Aidan Forker (1-1), Kevin Dyas (0-1), Anto Duffy; Jamie Clarke (0-5), Brian Mallon (0-4), Caolan Rafferty. Subs: Paul Duffy, Gavin McParland (0-1), Johnny Hanratty, Charlie Vernon, John Kingham

Tyrone: Pascal McConnell; Aidan McCrory, Justin McMahon, Dermot Carlin (0-1); Cathal McCarron, Conor Gormley, Sean O’Neill; Joe McMahon (0-1), Colm Cavanagh (0-2); Ronan McNabb, Mark Donnelly (0-1), Peter Harte (0-2); Martin Penrose (0-8), Stephen O’Neill (0-2), Owen Mulligan (0-2). Subs: Michael Murphy, Niall McKenna, Ryan McMenamin, Patrick McNiece.