Darren McCurry’s last gasp free-kick earned Tyrone a draw over Sperrin rivals Derry at extremely wet and blustery Healy Park on Saturday.
The football was understandably hard to watch at the best of times, whether you were in Omagh or watching on television, as torrential rain and harsh gales punished both sets of players for the seventy minutes. However both teams rallied to the cause much to their credit, and they set up a dramatic finish.
Twelve wides were registered in the first half, eight for Derry and four for Tyrone. At some stages, Tyrone played with no forwards inside the 45, with the middle third a real battlefield.
Mickey Harte and Brian McIver would have been working on tactics and plays all week, but they largely went out the window in a game where heart and hunger was to decide the winner.
Although Tyrone kept their noses in front for the majority of the game, Derry hung in there and they surged on in the final ten minutes.
Tyrone were able to haul themselves back into the game and snatch a valuable league point when McCurry knocked over with the last kick.
Brian McIver was aggrieved at the draw, the Derry manager believing Tyrone benefited from “hometown decisions”. Derry took the lead towards the latter stages of the match when Terence O’Brien fired a goal past Niall Morgan.
However, Tyrone resolve and the sending-off of Derry fullback Niall Holly threw a lifeline to the Red Hands, and they were able to win and convert the valuable frees to salvage a draw.
Given the extremely blustery conditions in Omagh, the Healy Park field passed an inspection before kick off, albeit the puddles of water were visible across the pitch. The wind and rain only worsened as David Coldrick threw up the ball.
Tyrone took the lead as Colm Cavanagh powered through a gap in the Derry defence to open the scoring.
Derry couldn’t get to grips with the conditions early on, and although working hard to get down the field they racked three wides in the opening six minutes.
They eventually opened their account when marquee forward Eoin Bradley slotted over a free from the left side. The Glenavon soccer star was making his first appearance of the season for Derry since his return to the fold.
Tyrone too were guilty of wayward shooting themselves, with the wind tailing a number of efforts wide at the other end.
Oak leaf keeper Eoin McNicholl made a vital block as corner back Aidan McRory found himself through on goal.
It took ten minutes for another score to come, with Sean Cavanagh this time getting on the end of a smart move to kick over. McCurry added a score from a free several minutes later in a first half were scores were proving to be at a premium.
A dangerous ball in from Carlus McWilliams almost ended up in the net, but bounced over for Derry’s second score. Then in a rare glimpse of stylish football amidst the mire, fine play from Derry then saw Bradley kick lovely point to level.
A free from the steady Sean Cavanagh put Tyrone back in front as both teams continued to battle in the difficult weather. Both sets of players were able to take shelter in the changing rooms as Coldrick blew for halftime, with Harte’s men taking a slender but hard fought lead in at the break.
As the game resumed, Bradley earned his side a free which James Kielt accurately converted and the sides the level once more.
Referee Coldrick smartly allowed play to develop after Brian Og McAlary upended McCurry. McAlary was issued a black card and made way, while McCurry slotted over the free.
Connor McAliskey then kicked the score of the game, sweetly swerving a shot between the posts from the stand side of the pitch to open up an important two point lead.
In a real purple patch for the Red Hands, Padraig McNulty charged through but blazed a glorious opportunity wide. The rookie Dungannon midfielder was having a decent game, but lacked composure that should come with more outings in county jersey.
A huge score from Kielt after 49 minutes brought the game back to one point deficit, and it was anybody’s game. Both teams were showing more incision, and the game was benefiting as a result. Benny Heron was rewarded for incentive play as he pointed to level the game once more with 16 minutes to go.
The rain and wind still hadn’t let up, and substitute Cathal McShane had a great chance for a goal as he opted to dink the ball over McNicholl, but the Derry stopper collected the ball and Derry were let off the hook. Going into the final twenty minutes of the game, the sides were locked at six apiece.
Derry then grabbed the initiative for the first time in the game, as Sean Leo McGoldrick edged Derry ahead. Tyrone were then dealt a massive blow as a break in the Derry full forward line fell into the path of substitute O’Brien who fired past Morgan to the net.
Tyrone responded with a McCurry free before Niall Holly was punished for a foul, and a second yellow card saw him dismissed from the game.
The match had dramatically increased in pace and excitement, and a point from Michael McIver was matched by a Mattie Donnelly score. PJ Lavery then brought the game back within a point as Tyrone attacked frenetically.
After a passage of passionate defending, Tyrone managed to draw a foul from the Derry defence. McCurry held his nerve to calmly kick over a pressure free and steal a share of the spoils for Harte’s men.
When Coldrick blew the final whistle, fans was able to catch their breath, and both teams trudged off the field after a punishing 70 minutes.
A point leaves Derry sweating on their Division One status and makes next week’s visit of Mayo to Celtic Park a must win, whilst Tyrone now look ahead to Saturday night’s to GAA HQ to take on Dublin.