Tyrone’s hurling renaissance continued in spectacular fashion, at Athleague on Saturday afternoon, when they produced an assured second half performance to send odds-on favourites Roscommon crashing out of the Nicky Rackard Cup, writes Geoffrey Gillis.
In doing so, Mattie Lennon’s charges emphatically reversed the annihilation suffered at the hands of the Rossies, at the same stage of the competition last term, as they secured their first Rackard Cup Final appearance.
This was a superb display and, while Roscommon played their part in a compelling semi final encounter, they simply had no answer to Tyrone’s sheer heart, determination and work rate throughout the second half.
And it was two quickfire goals which helped Tyrone turn a four point half time deficit into a comfortable eight point victory.
An amazing total of eventeen players featured on the scoreboard with both teams producing an exhibition of long range finishing.
Indeed, Roscommon corner back Darren Fallon, John Moran, Shane Curley and Robbie Fallon split the uprights in style numerous times.
But, encouraging, for Tyrone, they commednably responded in similar fashion courtesy of Conor Grogan, Mark Winters and Damien Casey, who once again delivered an inspired contribution of nine points from play and frees.
The Tyrone defence worked tirelessly with Mike O’Gorman, Stephen Donnelly and Martin Grogan to the fore.
And the second half introduction of Sean Og Grogan provided Tyrone with the perfect launch pad as they took control to set up an interesting final appearance with surprise package Fingal on Saturday week, June 7th.
The Westerners were into their stride immediately and, by the time Casey knocked over a free to open Tyrone’s accoun.
And they were worryingly three points adrift after Fallon, Moran and Michael Kelly had underlined the hosts’ early dominance.
Winters and Gilmore hauled Tyrone back on level terms but, by the end of the opening quarter, Roscommon had established a deserving lead, the defensive exploits of Cathal Kelly, Shane Curley and midfielder Tomás Seale providing them with a strong foundation.
Cillian Egan nudged them back into the lead on 12 minutes and, after Gerry Fallon pointed corner back Darren Fallon landed one of the scores of the half for a 6-3 cushion.
Grogan kept Tyrone in contention along with Casey, who was operating around midfield also tagging on some cracking points in response to efforts from David Dolan and a Robert Fallon free for a 10-5 deficit.
In the closing stages of the half successive Mark Winters points ignited a strong Tyrone response but despite a third Casey conversion they found themselves entering the break 12-8 behind.
The introduction of Sean Og Grogan on the resumption worked a treat as the Éire Og clubman provided the perfect confidence boost for the O’Neill men.
Within minutes Grogan collected a pass from Conor Grogan and sent a rasping shot to the back of Padraig Dolan’s net.
It was the perfect start and, just as Roscommon were coming to terms with that set back Tyrone struck gold again. Casey and Winters combining brilliantly in midfield and when the home defence failed to deal with Winter’s long delivery, Gilmore nipped in to fire to the rigging.
Suddenly Tyrone found themselves 2-8 to 0-12 up - and they never looked back.
Grogan and Gilmore traded points with Cathal Dolan and Kelly before Casey drilled over a monstrous long range free on 49 minutes, as Tyrone defied their underdogs tag.
Dual star Cathal Kenny was thrown into the Roscommon attack and although he managed to send over a quality score there was no stopping the Red Hands juggernaut.
Casey, Matthew Mulgrew and Gary Fox all stretched their advantage and after David Dolan supplied the Rossies final point of the game, it was left to man of the match Casey to bring the curtain down on an exceptional Tyrone display.
That was his ninth point of the afternoon signalling the start of the celebrations as Tyrone prepare for their fourth visit to Croke Park in six years and now a first ever Rackard Cup final to look forward to.