Derry 1-17, Tyrone 1-22
Tyrone made it a five successive McKenna Cups after an extra-time victory over Derry in a final that will live long in the memories of the 7,000 strong crowd lucky enough to witness it.
Derry had the game all but won when they led by two points as the game ticked into injury time but their insistence on going for further scores ended up costing them as the 13-man Red Hands rallied with two late frees to force extra-time.
Mickey Harte’s men had looked finished with a straight red card for Cathal McCarron and a second yellow for Ronan McNamee following a fracas which also saw Derry boss Damian Barton sent to the stands left them two players short and few would have argued had Derry gone on to lift the trophy such was their performance in a thrilling match.
Yet experience counts for so much and when Derry needed that cool head they got caught in the drama of the match and went in search of scores they didn’t need.
And with both teams back to 15 for the extra-time, Tyrone forged a four point lead that a tiring Derry couldn’t reel in, Darren McCurry’s late penalty giving the scoreline a look the Oak Leafers didn’t deserve.
Starting against a stiff breeze, Derry rotated the lone target man role between Ryan Bell and Cailean O’Boyle with Mark Criag and Danny Heavron both employed as sweepers at various stages during the opening 35 minutes.
With Craig a late addition for Dermot McBride who missed out through injury, Derry were forced into possibly the earlier change in McKenna Cup history when Brendan Rogers, starting alongside Emmet Bradley at midfield was caught heavily by Tiarnan McCann at the throw-in and replaced by Conor McAtamney - who went on to have a brilliant final - after only 20 seconds.
It didn’t seem to upset Derry though with Kielt shooting them ahead seconds later but the sides were level with the first minute through Cathal McShane.
Backed by the wind, Tyrone built a 0-3 to 0-1 lead with points from Lee Brennan and Hugh Pat McGreary but the Red hands were struggling against an organised Oak Leaf outfit in which Ciaran Mullan was superb.
Derry’s defence was coping well against a strangely lack lustre Tyrone attack and as the half progressed, Damina Barton’s team took complete control.
Two Kielt frees brought Derry level and despite Tyrone bringing players back en mass inside thier own 45, Derry’s mobility and strong running was punching holes and creating chances.
Enda Lynn was as elusive as ever amid those runner and shot Derry ahead at 0-4 tom 0-3 but the Oak Leafers already looked to have legitimate appeals for a penalty turned down on 25 minutes when Bradley was hauled to the floor by Colm Cavanagh as he tried to get to an O’Boyle break down.
It wasn’t the first time a Derry player looked to be impeded under a high ball and that ability to mix the short and long game up paid dividends on 28 minutes when Cavan referee Niall Mooney awarded Derry a penalty. Lynn was at the heart of it again, finding O’Boyle with a lovely ball inside. O’Boyle couldn’t gather it at the first time of asking but as he moved to get the loose ball, he was froced to the ground by Ronan McNamee.
Up stepped Bell to hit his fifth penalty of the competition and despite Tyrone keeper Niall Morgan producing a superb full length save on his initial effort, the rebound fell perfectly to the big Ballinderry forward who gathered and stroke coolly into the empty net for 1-04 to 0-03.
A superb left footed Bradley point increased the Derry lead with Ronan O’Neill’s late point ended 24 scoreless minutes for Mickey Harte’s team but Derry still went in leading 1-05 to 0-4.
Tyrone’s poor display prompted a triple half-time substitution as Conor McAliskey, Padraig McNulty and Conor Meyler were all introduced and they made a difference as the Red Hands upped their performance considerably.
Meyler in particular was superb as the sides went score for score, Derry matching every Tyrone score with a response at the other end. Even when substitute Niall Sludden brought Tyrone level at 0-12 to 1-09 on 58 minutes, Derry found the reserves to go ahead once more and were leading 1-11 to 0-12 when things got heated in the bottom corner following a clash between Daniel McKinless and McNamee. Players from both sides became involved but the referee did well to control matters.
Once the dust had settled and Tyrone had been reduced to 13 men, Derry should have gone have gone on to win. That they didn’t was down to inexperience with the extra men.
The loss of Enda Lynn, in addition to Rogers, to a suspected broken ankle late in extra-time further compounded Derry sorrows with Fermanagh due in Owenbeg next Sunday for the opening fixture of Division Two.
Those losses could prove more significant than this loss but if Derry continue to produce this level of performance, there is more than a little room for optimism
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Ciaran Mullan, Chrissy McKaigue, Karl McKaigue; Gareth McKinless, Mark Craig, Danny Heavron; Brendan Rogers, Emmet Bradley (0-2); Enda Lynn (0-3), James Kielt (0-3, 2f), Benny Heron; Shane Heavron, Cailean O’Boyle (0-1, 1f), Ryan Bell (1-1, 1f). (Subs) Conor McAtamney (0-1) for B Rogers (inj) 1min; Christopher Bradley (0-1) for S Heavron, 31mins; Oisin Duffy (0-1) for M Craig, 40mins; Conor Kearns (0-2) for B Heron, 48mins; Daniel McKinless for R Bell, 52mins; Neil Forester (0-1) for G McKinless, 57mins; Gavin McWilliams (0-1, 1f) for J Kielt, 8mins (ET); Peter Quinn for D Heavron, 11mins (ET); Shane Mulgrew for C Kearns, 13mins (ET);
Tyrone: Niall Morgan; Cathal McCarron, Ronan McNamee, Hugh Pat McGeary (0-1); Tiarnan McCann (0-1), Justin McMahon, Barry Tierney; Colm Cavangh, Conor Clarke; Harry Og Conlon, Mattie Donnelly, Cathal McShane (0-3); Lee Brennan (0-4, 2f), Ronan O’Neill (0-1), Patrick Quinn. (Subs) Conor McAliskey (0-3, 3f) for H Conlan, H/T; Padraig McNulty for C Clarke, H/T; Conor Meyler (0-3) for P Quinn, H/T; Darren McCurry (1-2, 1f, 1pen) for R O’Neill. 46mins; Niall Sludden (0-2) for J McMahon, 50mins; Jonathan Monroe (0-1) for C McShane, 64mins; Padraig Hampsey for B Tierney, 2mins (ET); Cathal McShane for HP McGeary..