Tyrone into McKenna final but positives for Derry
Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup semi-final
Derry 1-08, Tyrone 0-14
Tyrone will meet Armagh in the 2019 Bank of Ireland Dr. McKenna Cup final after an enthralling semi-final victory over a Derry side that probably got as much from the match as Mickey Harte's team.
Damian McErlain went into the clash with as close to a full squad as he has had since being appointed Oak Leaf senior manager in September 2017 and it showed with his team putting in a performance that belied their Division Four status.
Derry were the better team in the opening half but crucially couldn't translate it to the scoreboard with the half-time introduction of Peter Harte, who scored 0-05, eventually turning the tide in Tyrone's favour.
The venue for next week's final will be decided by a coin toss tomorrow morning by which time Derry minds will be fully focused on their league opener against Antrim in Glenavey eight days later.
Tyrone still looked like they needed fine tuning, especially in terms of shooting with seven wides and nine shots dropping short over the course of the 70 minutes. They could have been made to pay had Derry taken advantage of chances to register more than just their solitary goal from Patrick Coney but have defeated a Division Two team in Fermanagh, and pushed Tyrone all the way, there were plenty of positives from an Oak Leaf perspective.
McErlain named four changes from the side that strolled past the Ulster University at Owenbeg on Wednesday night, Karl McKaigue, Jack Doherty, Shane McGuigan and Christopher Bradley coming in for what was a hugely impressive opening half from the Oak Leafers even if it wasn't adequately reflected on the scoreboard at the interval.
Tyrone made eight changes from the side that defeated Fermanagh and perhaps that large number of changes was the reason for a lacklustre opening from the Red Hands who were playing with the breeze at their backs in the opening half.
Too often Tyrone's shot selection was rushed or wayward with three efforts dropping short in the opening 35 minutes and three wide.
The introduction of Christopher McKaigue to patrol in front of an excellent Derry full-back line gave the Oak Leafers a more miserly look than recent seasons though and if Tyrone were second best in the opening half, it was only because Derry forced them to be. McErlain's team looked sharper with Jason Rocks brilliant and the attacking duo of Edna Lynn and especially Christopher Bradley giving Tyrone no end of trouble.
Bradley's vision was constantly picking holes in a Red hand rearguard that was struggling with Derry's clever attacking rotation and Mickey harte will have counted himself fortunate to see his side level at the break.
The Oak Leafers led 0-6 to 0-3 four minutes before the break and it could have been better had Lynn elected to go for goal when he registered his side's sixth score. Sent clear by a sublime 'Sammy' Bradley pass, the angle may not have favoured Greenlough forward and he played it safe with the point when a goal would have opened up a five point lead.
As it was Tyrone rallied Ruairi Sludden taking advantage of a very soft free before another free, this time from Ronan O'Neill and a late Conal McCann polint ensured parity at the break.
Bradley had grabbed Derry's first point of an impressive opening with a free before Ben McDonnell equalised in the ninth minute. Ronan O'Neill edged the Red hands in front again five minutes later but there was no disputing which side was enjoying the better of the opening exchanges with Rocks winning some lovely turnover ball.
A fantastic Bradley '45' against the wind levelled matters before Lynn put Derry ahead again on and a McGuigan free stretched the lead to 0-4 to 0-2 on 22 minutes.
A Sludden free brought it back to the minimum before a superb sideline free from Bradley and that fisted score from Lynn had Derry three to the good before that late Tyrone rally.
Harte's reaction to that lacklustre half was a triple half-time substitution with Darragh Canavan, Peter Harte and Liam Rafferty introduced for Aidan McCrory, Lee Brennan and Declan McClure and the reaction was instant.
Canavan, bring picked up by the impressive Eoghan Concannon, grabbed the opening score and when a poor kick-out gifted Kyle Coney a point, suddenly Tyrone looked in control.
Bradley reduced the deficit for Derry and better was to follow when Coney grabbed the game's only goal following a lovely move on 44 minutes. Again Bradley was the instigator, threading a beautiful pass into Lynn who held off his man before feeding Coney at paced. The Loup man was through and showed the finishing instincts of a forward with an emphatic shot to the net to put Derry 1-07 to 0-08 ahead.
However, that would be Derry final score for 25 minutes as Harte hit five Tyrone scores in succession to take his team into a 0-12 to 1-07 lead. Shane McGuigan eventually knocked over from a free to get Derry moving again but it wasn't enough as late scores from Harte and Coney sealed Tyrone's final spot and put a gloss on the scoreboard that Derry didn't deserve.
Derry scorers: Patrick Coney (1-0), Christopher Bradley (0-4, 3f, 1 forty-five), Enda Lynn (0-2), Shane McGuigan (0-2, 1f),
Tyrone scorers: Ben McDonnell (0-1), Ronan O'Neill (0-2, 1f), Ruairi Sludden (0-2, 2f), Conal McCann (0-1), Darragh Canavan (0-1), Kyle Coney (0-2), Peter Harte (0-5, 4f)
Derry: Thomas Mallon; Eoghan Concannon, Conor Mulholland, Sean Quinn; Patrick Coney, Karl McKaigue, Jason Rocks; Christopher McKaigue, Ciaran McFaul; Ryan Dougan, Jack Doherty, Padraig Cassidy; Christopher Bradley, Shane McGuigan, Enda Lynn.
(Subs) Conor McAtamey for J Doherty, 46mins; Gareth McKinless for C Bradley, 56mins; Niall Toner for R Dougan, 56mins; Declan Hughes for C Mulholland, 64mins
Yellow cards: Jason Rocks 29mins;
Tyrone: Benny Gallen; Aidan McCrory, Hugh Pat McGreary, Michael McKernan; Ben McDonnell, Rory Brennan, Michael Cassidy; Declan McClure, Brian Kennedy; Conal McCann, Kyle Coney, Cathal McShane; Lee Brennan, Ronan O'Neill, Ruairi Sludden.
(Subs) Darragh Canavan for Lee Brennan, HT; Peter Harte for R O'Neill, HT ; Liam Rafferty for A McCrory, HT; Darren McCurry for R Sludden, 48mins; Frank Burns for M Cassidy, 71mins
Yellow cards: Aidan McCrory, 29mins; Declan McClure, 36mins; Kyle Coney, 65mins;
Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down)