McKenna Cup is again back where it belongs

Press Eye - Belfast - 26th January 2013'Power NI McKenna Cup Final : Tyrone vs Monaghan at The Athletic Grounds, Armagh'Tyrones xxx and Monaghans yyy in action at Saturday Nights Final'�Russell Pritchard / Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - 26th January 2013'Power NI McKenna Cup Final : Tyrone vs Monaghan at The Athletic Grounds, Armagh'Tyrones xxx and Monaghans yyy in action at Saturday Nights Final'�Russell Pritchard / Presseye

A two goal blitz and a sending off just minutes before the half time interval set Tyrone up for a comfortable victory in the Dr McKenna Cup over Monaghan, writes Seamus Donnelly.

At a wet and windswept Athletic Grounds, Mickey Harte’s side took their time to find their rhythm but when then did they played some sublime football as they kept the Farney men at arms length for the second half.

Tyrone made one late change to their selected line up with Dromore’s Cathal McCarron taking Barry Tierney’s position in the Red Hand defence.

The mixture of youth and experience appeared to blend beautifully for Tyrone as Ronan McNamee and Conor McAliskey in particular gave Mickey Harte plenty of food for thought ahead of Saturday’s league opener in Newry.

Monaghan for their part were coping well in the opening half and as halftime approached would have been happy to have been just a couple of points adrift before the sending-off of Ronan McNally turned the game in Tyrone’s favour.

Monaghan got off to a faster start than their Red Hand counterparts with Paul Freeman slotting over a free in the opening minutes.

Tyrone responded almost immediately with a long pass picking out the elusive Conor McAliskey who turned quickly and fired over an excellent point.

After a couple of poor wides Tyrone took the lead after nine minutes when an Aidan McCrory run out of defence allowed Sean Cavanagh the space to carry the ball to the heart of the Monaghan defence. Cavanagh was cynically taken down as he closed in on goal allowing Peter Harte to convert the easiest of free-kicks.

While Tyrone may have led on the scoreboard, Monaghan were more than holding their own into the stiff wind and their cause was strengthened when Kieran Hughes was first to pounce on a Conor McManus free that dropped short.

Hughes swivelled quickly and fired low past the despairing Niall Morgan to put Monaghan into the lead.

A Finlay free a couple of minutes later was cancelled out by Stephen O’Neill, but Finlay restored Monaghan’s three point lead after 20 minutes.

This lead didn’t last long however as Tyrone grew into the game in midfield with Danny McBride, Ronan McNamee and Mattie Donnelly seeing more ball as the half progressed.

This was soon reflected on the scoreboard as good work from McAliskey allowed Stephen O’Neill to point from under the stand from all of 50 metres.

O’Neill pointed again seconds later this time from a free after a foul on Mark Donnelly to close the gap to just a solitary point.

As the rain began to come down heavily, illuminated by the Athletic Grounds floodlights Tyrone scored their opening goal. With Monaghan struggling to get the ball out of their own defence, the ball broke kindly for Mark Donnelly who took it soccer style, sliding it under the on rushing Farney goalkeeper Mark Keogh.

Monaghan in fairness responded almost immediate with Owen Duffy just getting his effort over Niall Morgan’s crossbar.

Tyrone renewed their attack, however, as the half drew to a close, McAliskey again involved, this time the Clonoe man pointed from the left wing with a beautiful effort.

Given the wind advantage Tyrone had, the two point lead they enjoyed at this stage with just 3 minutes of the half to play appeared slim but the next few minutes put the second half’s proceedings beyond doubt.

A Plunkett Kane point extended the gap to three before Stephen O’Neill was on hand to fire to the net a minute later after Mark Donnelly’s original effort was brilliantly denied by Keogh.

The two point lead had become six in the space of 3 minutes and in injury time Monaghan’s task was made almost impossible as Monaghan defender Ronan McNally saw red after retaliating after he had drawn a free from Peter Harte.

Tyrone emerged after the break and tried to kill the game off almost immediately, Ronan McNamee got forward to point for the Red Hands in the opening minutes.

Two minutes later the lead was 10 points great work from Conor McAliskey in trying to win the ball back allowed Stephen O’Neill to pick out the unmarked Mark Donnelly who showed great composure to sidestep Keogh in the Monaghan goals and fire to the empty goal.

Tyrone then seemed to take their foot of the gas and over the next 15 minutes Monaghan scored three points without reply. Conor McManus scored the first from a free, before Paul Finlay got his fourth point of the day from a free.

The Hughes brothers, Darren and Kieran, along with McManus were the stand-out players from Monaghan on the night.

The elder of the Hughes’, Darren pointed from a ‘45’ after 51 minutes to reduce the gap to seven. A point from a Sean Cavanagh free was cancelled out a couple of minutes later by a tremendous effort from Kieran Hughes as he pointed

from all of 55 metres, using the wind expertly to assist his shot.

The game tailed off from then on however as substitute Kevin Gallagher and McAliskey were on target for Tyrone, Gallagher’s effort finishing a fantastic team move started by McAliskey in his own defence.

Peter Harte sealed the Tyrone victory in the final seconds with a brilliantly taken penalty as he placed the ball in the top left corner of the net.

Monaghan’s miserable night had been completed in the awarding of the penalty as Dessie Mone saw a second yellow card from referee Barry Cassidy.

Job done, Tyrone’s attention now turns to next Saturday night and their meeting with Down.