Tyrone survive Derry scare to advance in Ulster Championship

Derry's Ryan Bell tries to escape the clutches of Tyrone's Ronan mcNamee in Healy Park.
Derry's Ryan Bell tries to escape the clutches of Tyrone's Ronan mcNamee in Healy Park.

Ulster Senior Football Championship, Preliminary Round

Tyrone 1-19, Derry 1-13

Tyrone substitute Darren McCurry scores his crucial second half goal against Derry in Healy Park on Sunday.

Tyrone substitute Darren McCurry scores his crucial second half goal against Derry in Healy Park on Sunday.

For sixty seconds, the impossible seemed possible.

Shane McGuigan's brilliant finish from Enda Lynn's sublime pass had Derry fans dreaming, Christopher Bradley's point to edge the Oak Leafersin front with nine minutes remaining threatened to turn that dream into a reality.

Yet sixty seconds later, Darren McCurry injected a huge dose of reality.

Niall Morgan's booming kick-out; Richard Donnelly's crucial flick; Frank Burns' inch perfect pass and McCurry, stepping inside on to his left-foot, dashed Derry dreams with a superb low finish fit to win any Championship game.

It was a hammer blow worth more than the three points to a Tyrone team who were rocking. If it was an adrenaline boost for Mickey Harte's men, it drained the enthusiasm from a Derry team who belied pre-match predictions but ultimately spent too much of the match chasing a deficit.

That fact shouldn't take away from a hugely encouraging performance though even if Damian McErlain nor his players will want to be damned by faint praise.

In the end, the strength of the Tyrone bench was probably the difference with the likes of McCurry, Kyle Coney, Colm Cavangh and Conor McAliskey able to be introduced to tip the scales.

Harte's team included 10 of the side that started against Dublin in Croke Park last season but there was still space for three Championship debuts with defenders Michael Cassidy and Ben O'Donnell joining midfielder Brian Kennedy in making their Championship bow.

For Derry, Swatragh's Sean Franics Quinn was rewarded for some excellent display's in the league with a start at corner back while Jason Rocks was a late addition, coming in for Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley.

And it was almost a dream start for the visitors and Rocks when the Loup man found himself on the end of a cutting Derry move that sent him clear on goal. Rocks steadied himself and hit a fierce shot but it was too close to Niall Morgan who had closed the gap and made a fine block.

If that chance shook Tyrone, they didn't show it.

Employing Cathal McShane inside to great effect, the Red Hands were finding their full forward with far too much ease. Chrissy McKaigue was the Derry sweeper but with the Oak Leafers not going man for man and Tyrone overloading their runners, McKaigue was being dragged out of position too often which allowed Richard Donnelly the space to feed some lovely passes into McShane who hit for first half points from play.

That combination opened the Healy Park scoring and when Donnelly himself added two more by the 10th minute, things appeared to be proceeding as predicted by so many pre-match.

Shane McGuigan got Derry's opening point from a free after Padraig Cassidy was fouled but it barely broke Tyrone's stride as Peter Harte (free), Frank Burns and McShane once again put the hosts five points up.

In possession though Derry looked good. Thomas Mallon's kick-outs were working well and gradually the Oak Leafers began to take advantage of the plentiful possession they were enjoying.

A Ryan Bell free was added to by a lovely Shane McGuigan point after good work from Enda Lynn down Derry's left.

Perhaps concerned by Derry's dominance of the kick-out, Mickey Harte replaced Brian Kennedy with the experienced Colm Cavangh who immediately joined Padraig Hampsey to shore up the space in front of his full back line.

Sweeping though didn't stop Hampsey getting forward and his fisted point increased Tyrone's advantage to four at 0-7 to 0-4 by the 26th minute.

Ciaran McFaul hit probably the score of the half minutes later, picking up a great Lynn pass before turning his marker and splitting the posts. Cavanagh was then penalised for clipping Lynn's heel and when the free was brought forward, McGuigan tapped over the free and suddenly, the Tyrone lead was the minimum.

Tyrone needed settling and that man McShane was the man to calm any home nerves though it took a discussion between both umpires and the referee before his huge 31st minute point eventually received the white flag.

As if offended by the debate, McShane scored again within seconds, no debate needed this time.

Not for the first time in the half, a foul on McGuigan brought a score from the same player but Tyrone would have the final say of the half, Michael Cassidy's excellent score left the home side leading 0-10 to 0-07.

Emmet Bradley was introduced at half-time, replacing Quinn as McErlain sought to limit the impact of McShane with a defensive reshuffle designed to provide Brendan Rogers with more protection.

It worked too as the second half had Oak Leaf fans daring to dream.

Michael Cassidy got the half's first score for Tyrone but with Enda Lynn's influence growing, Derry responded through a Bell free. McGeary and McGuigan swapped scores for 0-12 to 0-9 in the 45th minute, McGuigan and Harte doing likewise from placed balls as Tyrone kept Derry at arm's length.

Then Derry turned the game on it's head.

Lynn was the catalyst, doing superbly on the ball before spotting McGuigan's run through the heart of the Red Hand rearguard. The Slaughtneil man was clear merely enhanced his growing reputation with a brilliant finish to tie the game up at 1-10 to 0-13.

McShane steadies Tyrone nerves with a free but Derry were now in the ascendancy with Conro McAtamney's illustrating the Oak Leaf confidence with a lovely score from the right wing to level once more.

That was good but when two minutes later, substitute Christopher Bradley split the posts for a Derry lead, suddenly the upset was on.

The hope lasted only 60 seconds, McCurry's goal sapping the Derry energy just as quickly as McGuigan's had injected.

Tyrone's fresh legs took full advantage of the tiring Derry legs and will be big favourites once again against Antrim in the next round.

For Derry, it is not patronising to say the performance was real progress and another step in the right direction. The challenge now is to make sure it is built on the the Qualifiers.

Tyrone Scorers: Darren McCurry (1-0), Cathal McShane (0-7, 2f), Richard Donnelly (0-2), Peter Harte (0-3, 3f), Frank Burns (0-1), Padriag Hampsey (0-1), Michael Cassidy (0-2), Hugh Pat McGeary (0-1), Rory Brennan (0-1), Michael McKernan

Derry Scorers: Shane McGuigan (1-6, 5f), Ryan Bell (0-3, 3f), Ciaran McFaul (0-1), Conor McAtamney (0-1), Christopher Bradley (0-2, 1f)

Tyrone: Niall Morgan; Padriag Hamspey, Ronan McNamee. Michael Kernan; Michael Cassidy, Ben McDonnell, Tiernan McCann; Richard Donnelly, Brian Kennedy; Matthew Donnelly, Niall Sludden, Frank Burns; Cathal McShane, Peter Harte, Hugh Pat McGeary.

(Subs) Colm Cavanagh for B Kennedy (inj), 18mins; Darren McCurry for N Sludden, 49mins; Kyle Coney for C Cavanagh, 56mins; Rory Brennan for H.P. McGeary, 58mins; Connor McAliskey for R Donnelly, 64mins; Liam Rafferty for M mcKernan, 70mins.

Yellow Cards: Brian Donnelly, 25mins; Ben McDonnell, 53mins; Michael McKernan, 57mins;

Derry: Thomas Mallon; Sean Francis Quinn, Brendan Rogers, Karl McKaigue; Paul McNeill, Christopher McKaigue, Niall Keenan; Padraig Cassidy, Conor McAtamney; Liam McGoldrick, Enda Lynn, Ciaran McFaul; Shane McGuigan, Ryan Bell, Jason Rocks.

(Subs) Emmett Bradley for S.F. Quinn, HT; Christopher Bradley for R Bell, 48mins;Conor Doherty for J Rocks, 59mins; Conor Mulholland for E Lynn, 64mins; Patrick Coney for N Keenan, 69mins; Eogan Concannon for L McGoldrick, 70mins;

Yellow Cards: Padraig Cassidy 9 mins; Enda Lynn, 57mins; Thomas Mallon, 64mins; Chrissy McKaigue.

Referee: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon)