Two injury time frees from Sean Cavanagh saved Tyrone’s blushes in Healy Park on Sunday as they rescued a draw from a game they looked like they had thrown away.
When corner forward Darren McCurry goaled with 15 minutes remaining Tyrone looked destined for a quarter-final clash with Monaghan.
Down, however, had other ideas and two goals in the space of three minutes in the moments after McCurry’s goal left Tyrone reeling.
Down, inspired by the excellent Brendan Coulter at midfield were finding plenty of open space and Tyrone were chasing shadows.
Down then grabbed the lead with Conor Laverty and Coulter pointing with a few minutes remaining, Tyrone looked to be gone.
A point a minute into injury time gave Tyrone a some hope. Down however won the kickout and looked certain to see the game out when Conor Gormley dispossessed Ryan Johnston in the far corner of the field.
Tyrone, nonetheless, dug in and Sean Cavanagh showed nerves of steel to point the tying free in injury time.
Prior to the game both managers made late changes with Mickey Harte bringing in wing forward, Mark Donnelly at the expense of Patrick McNeice and James McCartan replacing talisman Benny Coulter with the experienced Conor Laverty.
Tyrone began brightest playing with the aid of a breeze and opened the scoring in the fourth minute of the contest, Niall Morgan brilliantly sweeping over a free from just inside the Down 45 metre line.
Sean Cavanagh doubled the lead a minute later, the Moy man swinging over a fine score from the stand side wing.
Cavanagh managed to evade the clutches of Down’s Declan Rooney, the wing back attempting to rough Cavanagh up at every opportunity. This could come back to haunt the Down man in the end, it was him who would fouled Cavanagh for the final free.
Down did reply from Donal O’Hare but Tyrone kicked on, McCurry pointing a free after he himself had been fouled and Sean Cavanagh firing over in the 18th minute to see Tyrone lead by three.
O’Hare again reduced the deficit and they could well have had a goal but Morgan done well to cut out an attack from the Mourne men.
Moments later Tyrone got a penalty as Mark Donnelly was hauled down in the small square. Referee David Coldrick could well have played the advantage but chose not to as Donnelly scrambled the ball into the net.
Peter Harte made no mistake from the spot as Tyrone opened a five point lead.
Tyrone’s shooting was letting them down and they could well have been much further ahead at the break, as they shot eight first half wides.
Ambrose Rogers closed the gap for Down momentarily but Tyrone responded as Mark Donnelly found Kyle Coney for a score.
Down made three changes at the break, introducing veteran Benny Coulter and the Johnston brothers Ryan and Jerome, stars of the Hogan Cup winning St Colman’s Newry teams in recent years.
All three made an instant impact with Coutler influential around the middle and the Johnston’s adding pace to the Mournemen’s attack.
It was Jerome who was upended in the Tyrone square moments into the second half, Niall Morgan, seeing a black card and Aidan Carr dispatching the penalty past Morgan’s helpless replacement Mickey O’Neill.
Kyle Coney responded brilliantly for Tyrone kicking two excellent points from play but Down had a new lease of life and replied through full forward Niall Madine and wing back Conor Garvey.
Sean Cavanagh and McCurry responded before the latter struck for what looked like a decisive goal.
McCurry’s cool finish came at the end of a move that had started in the Tyrone defence and was worked well up field with Mark Donnelly, substitute Stephen O’Neill and Aidan McCrory all combining for the Errigal man to set McCurry up.
No sooner had the ball hit the Tyrone net than the Down offensive began. Within a minute Donal O’Hare had plundered himself and his side a second goal.
Ryan Johnston blazed wide just seconds later and from the next kickout James McCartan’s men score a third goal of the day.
Down were now rampant and Tyrone rocking.
Tyrone could barely get their hands on the ball, Down shirts swarming the Tyrone midfield and starving the Tyrone attack of any ball.
Conor Laverty fired over a point from an acute angle as the Down surge continued. This was followed shortly after with Mark Poland and Benny Coulter giving their side the leadd for the first time in the game with eight minutes remaining.
Down could have been three points ahead but a shocking miss from Donal O’Hare gave Tyrone some hope.
Mickey Harte introduced Justin McMahon and Conor Gormley to steady the ship but Tyrone continued to struggle.
A minute into injury time Sean Cavanagh converted a free after he had been fouled. Then two minutes later, deep into stoppage time Cavanagh converted a brilliant late free to give Tyrone a second chance.