GAA: Tyrone hang on for draw against Derry

Derry's Mark Lynch and Tyrone's Conan Grugan. ''Mandatory Credit Photo Lorcan Doherty /
Derry's Mark Lynch and Tyrone's Conan Grugan. ''Mandatory Credit Photo Lorcan Doherty /

Tyrone’s wait for a win at Celtic Park goes on after they shared the spoils in a thoroughly entertaining National League opener with old rivals Derry on Saturday evening.

Prior to the game no doubt most Tyrone supporters would have taken that result although when Darren McCurry first timed the ball into the roof of the Derry net six minutes into the second the visitors looked well on their way to victory.

That goal put the Red Hands 2-9 to 0-8 in front but wind assisted Derry had the better of things in the remainder of the contest and in the closing stages Tyrone were hanging on for a draw but they could also have win it! It was that type of game, a superb contest between two committed sides who displayed a high level of skill despite the difficult weather conditions.

As was the case in their recent McKenna Cup game Tyrone got off to the ideal start with a superb Conan Grugan goal but they failed to build on it and by the break they were only two points to the good despite having the elements in their favour. That McCurry major seemed to wake Derry from their slumber and they played some superb football after that to get back on level terms although crucially they could never get their noses in front. In the end a draw was probably a fair result and Red Hands manager Mickey Harte can take a lot of positives from the game on a night when his inexperienced side once again stood up to be counted against opponents who were only missing a couple of regular starters. It was a good point to pick up on their travels and if they can build on that at home to Mayo next Sunday it will leave them sitting nicely before the League breaks for three weeks.

It was the home side who opened the scoring in the second minute via a James Kielt free but sixty seconds later the visitors struck for a well worked goal when the superb McCurry, who finished the game with 1-4 to his name, put a great ball into the path of Grugan and the midfielder burst through to finish in style past keeper Thomas Mallon. That stung Derry into action though and they reeled off the next five points without reply with influential duo Mark Lynch and Enda Lynn weighing in with a brace each. Tyrone were struggling at that stage as they had also lost midfielder Danny McBride to a black card, Colm Cavanagh coming on in his place for his first appearance of the season.

Tyrone though then enjoyed a productive spell with two McCurry points coming either side of a superb “45” conversion from his Edendork team mate Morgan before the same player repeated the dose in the 20th minute to edge Tyrone back in front again. Ciaran McFaul levelled matters but it was Tyrone who closed out the first half on top with Morgan knocking over a free and McCurry hitting an outstanding effort from play for a 1-6 to 0-7 interval advantage.

Ronan O’Neill replaced Niall McKenna in the Tyrone attack for the second half and it was the visitors who picked up where they had left off with McCurry knocking over a placed ball within sixty seconds of the restart. Shea McGuigan then showed his class with a neat turn and point and while Lynn responded at the other end of the field it was clear that Tyrone had lifted things a gear or two. Team captain Mattie Donnelly then got his name on the score sheet before McCurry blocked keeper Mallon’s attempted clearance before blasting home.

Derry were stunned but they responded in positive fashion by playing their best football of the game. The impressive Emmett McGuckin fired over and when half back Aidan McAlynn joined the attack to split the posts as well the comeback was on. The home side then almost got in for a badly needed goal but a combination of Peter Harte and Morgan deflected Fergal Doherty’s shot onto the post for a let off for the visitors. Kielt landed a wonderful score from distance and with seventeen minutes to go Derry were right back in the game when substitute Cailean O’Boyle palmed the ball to the net. Lynch and O’Neill traded points before a sublime effort with the outside of the boot from Grugan put Tyrone three in front again. There was still over ten minutes left to play but that proved to be Tyrone’s last score as Derry hit back to level through Gerard O’Kane, Doherty and Lynch. In a hectic finish both sides had chances to win it with Grugan narrowly wide but it ended in stalemate.