After an evenly-contested opening period, Tyrone moved up a few gears to beat Meath by 1-14 to 1-9 in the unseasonable Omagh sunshine.
A crowd of 5,860 bore witness to the Royals’ long-awaited return to the top flight and, with both sides missing a raft of key men, it was the home team who used their experience to telling effect, dominating the second half to eventually win at their absolute ease.
The was nothing between the sides in the first half but, with the on-form Darren McCurry (1-6) leading the way, it was the home team that took a narrow 1-5 to 1-4 advantage into the interval.
McCurry’s emphatic tenth-minute finish propelled the Red Hands a goal ahead, the opening points of the game having been traded by McCurry (free) and the returning Eamon Wallace. The Royals had engineered fantastic early goal-scoring opportunities for Ben Brennan and Cillian O’Sullivan (both denied by Niall Morgan) but came unstuck at the other end once Ronan O’Neill’s brilliant reverse pass unlocked their defence and the confident McCurry did the rest.
It was third-time lucky for the visitors when they got in behind the Tyrone defence again in the 15th minute and this time Ratoath clubman Bryan McMahon made no mistake, slotting his shot low to the net to tie the scores up for the second time.
Meath Hill’s Dominic Yorke was given his first league start between the posts for Meath after regular goalkeeper Andrew Colgan sustained an injury during the warm-up, Joey Wallace also a late starter in place of Shane Walsh, and it was full forward Thomas O’Reilly who nudged them in front for the only time with a point at the end of a lightning counter-attack in the 22nd minute.
Andy McEntee’s men had been dominant early on but a Red Hands purple patch saw them power back ahead thanks to a run of quickfire points from McCurry (2) and the ever-dependable place-kicking ‘keeper Morgan (‘45’). Joey Wallace and Bryan Mentor brought Meath level again, 1-4 apiece after half an hour, a point from Tyrone corner back Liam Rafferty ultimately the difference between the sides at the short whistle.
Barry Dardis replaced Yorke as Meath goalkeeper for the second half, but their problems were further out the field as the home side reeled off five of the first seven points of the second half to lead by four with an hour played, 1-10 to 1-6.
O’Neill and McCurry (2) pointed for the rampant Red Hands and McMahon replied, substitutes Kyle Coney and Mark Bradley (making his return to county action after a year) on target before O’Reilly foraged the Royals’ sixth point. McCurry converted another free after Bradley was fouled and it was done and dusted by the time Galbally clubman Rafferty grabbed his second point in the 64th. Bradley followed up quickly with a beauty to make it 1-13 to 1-6.
O’Sullivan and Niall Sludden traded scores, O’Reilly and McMahon registering consolation points for a Meath team that seemed to run out of steam and ideas during the third quarter.
Tyrone - N Morgan (0-1'45); HP McGeary, R McNamee, C Meyler; M Cassidy, R Brennan, T McCann; C Cavanagh, C Kilpatrick; L Rafferty (0-2), N Sludden (0-1), D McCurry (1-6, 0-4f); K McGeary, F Burns, R O’Neill (0-1). Subs: M Bradley (0-2) for F Burns, B McDonnell for C Kilpatrick, D Mulgrew for T McCann, K Coney (0-1) for R O’Neill, N Kelly for R McNamee.
Meath - D Yorke; R Clarke, C McGill, D Toner; J McEntee, Ronan Ryan, D Keogan; B Menton (0-1), B Conlon; B Brennan, B McMahon (1-2, 0-2f), E Wallace (0-1); C O’Sullivan (0-1), T O’Reilly (0-3), J Wallace (0-1). Subs: B Dardis for D Yorke, M Costello for B Brennan, R Jones for B Conlon, J O’Connor for J Wallace, S Tobin for E Wallace.
Referee - J McQuillan.Tweet