Holders Tyrone are back in Ulster Minor Championship Final after a workmanlike display saw off fancied Down at Breffni Park yesterday.
Playing in testing conditions with heavy rain throughout, the young Red Hands showed great character to chisel out a result just when it looked as though Down were going to finish the game the stronger.
The Mourne lads led by a point at halftime, despite failing to score for the final ten minutes of the opening period. They went the same time without registering at the start of the second half as well, during which time Tyrone established an advantage that they were never to lose.
With five minutes left, only the minimum separated them and Down were looking good; but that’s when Tyrone found another gear, with the strength of their panel coming to the fore.
Substitutes Stephen McGrath and Rian McHugh scored 1-2 between them as Tyrone ran out winners by five.
Manager Mickey Donnelly was naturally delighted at the final whistle.
“It was a real battle out there in trying conditions and I thought that our lads deserved their win.
”Our defence in particular stood firm in the second half and turned over a number of Down attacks while we hit a great spell in the closing minutes to help pull us through.
“It wasn’t a day for pretty football, it was all about getting the result and thankfully we are back in another Ulster Final.
“We have a few weeks to prepare for the final but we will be train hard and we ready to give it our best shot in defence of the title.”
Both sides missed early chances and, after Daire Gallagher had put Tyrone in front in the eighth minute, from a thirteen metre free, Trillick’s Lee Brennan doubled their advantage with a neat effort from play in the next attack.
It took Down a dozen minutes to open their account via a Conor Doyle free but they were on level terms courtesy of a superb point from play from their leading marksman Cory Quinn. A well-worked move involving Ronan Nugent ended with Ruairi McGlone ended putting the holders back in front.
But it was all square again thanks to a sublime Quinn effort from out on the left wing. Quinn and Gallagher exchanged points before Down enjoyed a good spell that yielded scores from Conor McGrady and Doyle, 0-6 to 0-4.
But they then hit abarren spell and Gallagher closed the gap from a free 0-6 to 0-5, halftime.
Tyrone enjoyed a great start to the second half and landed four points to gain an advantage that they were to hold.
Man of the match Brennan sent over the equaliser, followed by a free from Gallagher and an excellent score from left half back Padraig McGirr out on the right wing, before Brennan cut inside his marker to hit the target again.
A brilliant point by full forward McGrady opened Down’s second half account and they closed to one thanks to a twenty metre free from Quinn.
It was anybody’s game but, crucially, Tyrone got a well taken point with his weaker left foot by David Mulgrew.
Down wasted no time in responding via a Doyle free, but with six minutes to go Down subPackie O’Hagan was well wide from a long range free.
That’s when the Tyrone bench made an impact. Che O’Donnell twice in a minute set up points for fellow replacements McHugh and McGrath. Suddenly the gap was three and it was over when O’Donnell placed McGrath for a goal, despite the best efforts of Down keeper Ryan Malone.
Down had the final say when Quinn converted a free for his fifth score but it was Tyrone who advanced to the decider - and deservedly so!