Defending champions Dublin ended Tyrone’s National League title hopes at Healy Park yesterday when they had the minimum to spare in a cracking contest played before a bumper crowd.
It was the third league game in a row were only a point separated the two sides, including last season’s league decider, but with only eighty seconds gone you wouldn’t have thought it was going to be that close.
That was because a rampant Dublin side had already twice found the Tyrone net and the Red Hands were staring at what would have been an embarrassing defeat.
By the end of the opening quarter the Dubs had plundered a third goal and with Tyrone full back Ronan McNamee having been dismissed for a black card offence after only four minutes things couldn’t get much worse.
Tyrone rallied approaching the break but they still trailed 3-4 to 0-7 at the turnover having played with the wind at their backs.
The old adage that the wind won’t win you games was certainly true here as the home side produced a rousing second half display and with the contest two minutes into injury time the superb Mattie Donnelly levelled matters for the first time in the contest.
Moments earlier Dublin had lost full back Rory O’Carroll to a second yellow card offence and it looked as though it was going to be Tyrone’s day but Diarmuid Connolly had other ideas.
The St.Vincents man, who hit 2-5 from play in his side’s All Ireland club success on St.Patricks Day, hit a glorious winner to break Tyrone’s hearts.
Even at that the home side had a chance to snatch the draw that they needed to pip Dublin to the last semi final spot but Sean Cavanagh’s high shot tailed wide of the uprights.
The game was less than thirty seconds old when Jason Whelan played the ball to James McCarthy and the right half back gave Tyrone keeper Niall Morgan no chance with a thumping finish to the rook of the net that went in via the underside of the crossbar.
It was the perfect start for the visitors and it was to get even better as in the next attack Michael Darragh Macauley surged through from midfield before offloading for Whelan to finish in style to the net as well.
A Darren McCurry brace helped steady Tyrone as Dublin had already tagged on points from Connolly and Kevin McManamon.
In the 16th minute Tyrone fell further behind when the strong running Macauley was part of a move before getting on the end of it as well for an explosive finish to the net to leave it 3-3 to 0-3.
Tyrone were in disarray but they steadied the ship by restricting their opponents to just another point in the half.
McCurry converted a couple of frees while his Edendork team mate Morgan knocked over a “45” after Dublin keeper Sean Currie had saved well from Sean Cavanagh.
It was a promising end to a poor opening period but the Red Hands still had it all to do.
Connolly had the opening point of the second half but then Tyrone really came into the game.
Cavanagh surged through for a point and two difficult free conversions from Morgan helped close the gap further.
The next three points though went to Dublin via Alan Brogan, Whelan and corner back Philip McMahon and Tyrone had defender Aidan McCrory to thank for a superb goal line clearance to thwart McManamon.
Dublin were five points to the good again but a resurgent Tyrone weren’t finished.
A superb ball from Cavanagh picked out Shea McGuigan who was hauled down by Currie as he went round him; referee Marty Duffy awarding a penalty but unbelievably no card was brandished.
Peter Harte coolly slotted the spot-kick into the bottom left hand corner to set up a tense finish.
With five minutes to go Dublin were reduced to fourteen men when Rory O’Connell was shown a second yellow card, Ronan O’Neill punishing the offence further by converting the resulting free.
Dublin brought on David Byrne for O’Connell and it was only when the linesman spotted it that the referee put the substitute back off as O’Connell couldn’t be replaced.
Connolly and O’Neill exchanged points from frees before Donnelly charged through a couple of tackles to land an inspirational equaliser.
Tyrone couldn’t hang on though and Connolly proved to be the watch winner to send the holders through and the hosts out.