GAA: Tyrone set up McKenna Cup showpiece against Cavan after they survive Derry semi-final fightback

Connor McAliskey�bullies his way past Derry's Gerard O'Kane and Conor Clarke.
Connor McAliskey�bullies his way past Derry's Gerard O'Kane and Conor Clarke.

Tyrone will play Cavan in the Dr McKenna Cup final next Saturday evening after holding out against Derry in Healy Park on Sunday afternoon.

Having got off to a rapid start the Red Hands led 1-5 to 0-1 after 20 minutes, Niall McKenna firing to the Oak Leaf goals inside the opening 15 seconds.

A second quarter rally from Derry saw them get right back into the game before the break as Declan Mullan and Fergal Doherty led a mini-revival for their side.

It was a second half Peter Harte penalty that proved decisive for Tyrone, the centre half back sending Thomas Mallon in the Derry goal the wrong way.

Derry’s introduction of Mark Lynch and James Kielt helped them back into the tie but a late Emmett McGuckin goal just came too late as Tyrone clung on for victory.

Mickey Harte made two late changes to the named Tyrone team before throw in with Conan Grugan coming into the side in place of Danny McBride while Emmett McKenna replaced Plunkett Kane.

Grugan was involved right from the outset, winning the throw in and 15 seconds later giving the final pass to Niall McKenna who fired past a helpless Mallon in the Derry goal.

It was a fine team move involving Connor McAliskey, Emmett McKenna and goalscorer McKenna in the build up and gave the Red Hands the best possible start.

Just over a minute later Darren McCurry had extended the Tyrone lead with a free and shortly after that Niall McKenna was on hand again to fist over when a goal looked on.

Derry had been shaken but began to come back into the game, their shooting however was letting them down as they kicked a couple of poor wides.

Two more Tyrone points were to follow, McAliskey and McCurry on target and proving a real handful for Oisin Duffy and Mickey McShane.

Tyrone’s play was much more direct than in previous seasons with Emmett McKenna, Peter Hughes and Peter Harte all feeding fast ball into the full forward line giving Matthew Donnelly, McAliskey and McCurry every chance to take on their men.

Derry eventually registered 16 minutes in with Ciaran McGoldrick on target and for the rest of the half Brian McIver’s men were on top.

Niall Holly and Fergal Doherty began to get a hold at midfield, while Gerard O’Kane, Ciaran McGoldrick and Declan Mullan all caused Tyrone problems.

Three points from play in five minutes from O’Kane, Mullan and Doherty helped narrow the gap and things could well have got even better for Derry but two clear goal chances were driven wide first from Aaron Kerrigan and then from McGoldrick.

Tyrone needed a score badly and Connor McAliskey obliged with a well taken point, although a goal appeared to be a possibility had the Clonoe man managed to keep his shot down.

A late point from Gerard O’Kane left the Oak Leaf men trailing by four points at the break.

Tyrone began the second period as they ended the first with an early score, McCurry the man on target.

This was cancelled out almost immediately with substitute Benny Heron on target.

Connor McAliskey showed his class with a well taken effort before two Derry points from Doherty and McGoldrick reduced the deficit to just a goal.

Tyrone’s response was ruthless however with Emmett McKenna on target before Matthew Donnelly was hauled to the ground when through on goal for a penalty which Peter Harte coolly converted.

Fergal Doherty got his third from play before McKenna picked out McCurry for a well taken score.

James Kielt’s introduction provided a spark Derry needed and he fired over a point from distance with his first touch.

Derry then wasted a golden opportunity for a goal as Emmett McGuckin attempted to round Mickey O’Neill the Tyrone goalkeeper only to be force wide and hook his effort for a point harmlessly wide.

Kielt pointed once more but points from the in-form McCurry and Conan Grugan gave Tyrone a seven points cushion.

Kielt scored his third and a couple of minutes later McGuckin made up for his earlier miss palming past O’Neill to close the gap to just three.

A PJ Lavery point however soothed Tyrone nerves, although Mark Lynch offered a swift reply.

Both Matthew Donnelly and Patsy Bradley saw black cards late on as both sides finished with 14 but it’s Tyrone who march on to a McKenna Cup final as they seek their third title in as many years.