Ulster SFC final: impressive Red Hands retain title

July 16, 2017

Tyrone's Ronan O'Neill scores a goal against Down.
©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.

Tyrone are back-to-back Ulster senior football champions after beating Down by 2-17 to 0-15 at sunny Clones.

Substitute Ronan O'Neill fired both goals late on but the outcome of this game was never in any doubt as the defending champions eased past a disappointing Down side to collect the northern provincial silverware for the 15th time - and sixth under inspirational manager Mickey Harte. The winners finished the game with 14 men following the last-minute dismissal of Cathal McCarron.

Compared to their victories over Armagh and Monaghan in previous rounds, Down didn't really show up today, but were still just two points adrift at the short whistle, 0-7 to 0-5, with Tyrone showing signs of complacency during that first 35+ minutes. The second half was a stroll in the summer sunshine for the O'Neill County as a number of their subs came off the bench to make telling impacts, with the harsh black-carding of Kevin McKernan not helping the losers' cause.

Down must now regroup for a fourth-round Qualifier against one of the two teams they beat on route to the Ulster decider - a game which will be played in 13 days' time.

Peter Harte nudged the Red Hands ahead for the second time in the seventh minute and Man of the Match Padraig Hampsey followed up immediately with their third point. Sweeper Hampsey and Shay Millar had traded the first two scores of the afternoon.

Mattie Donnelly stroked over the fourth Tyrone point following a sublime Harte pass and Ryan Johnston brilliantly hammered over a Mourne County response in the 16th minute as they closed within two of the dominant holders.

With a very lethargic-looking Down standing off and not bothering to put any real pressure on the kicker, Niall Sludden thumped over an easy score to make it 0-5 to 0-2 in favour of the winners. Conall McCann did superbly to set up captain Sean Cavanagh for the next Tyrone score, which the Red Hands veteran opted to fist over from close range in the 18th minute; the challengers replied with a fortuitous Niall Donnelly point, which sailed over the bar after the midfielder tried to pump the ball into the goalmouth.

Amid some dreadful shooting at both ends, Mickey Harte's men led by double scores with ten minutes remaining in the first half, 0-6 to 0-3. Darragh O'Hanlon reduced the arrears from a free moments after Mourne custodian Michael Cunningham executed a terrific catch under pressure beneath his own crossbar and Conor Maginn made it a one-point game with a fabulous point at the end of a flowing Mourne County move three minutes from the short whistle.

Down were almost level in injury time at the end of the first half but Darren O'Hagan's effort came back off the top of the left upright; then they were almost in front when O'Hanlon was worked through for a glorious goal chance, which he blazed to the left of the posts and wide. Niall Morgan was straight over to the Down wing back to let him know what he thought of that miss.

Mattie Donnelly fisted over the last point of a bad-tempered opening period that simmered at times but never caught fire in the scorching sunshine.

The second half commenced after Donegal's 1992 All-Ireland winning team was presented to the crowd of 31,912. Three quick points from David Mulgrew, Sean Cavanagh (free) and Mark Bradley eased the Red Hands ahead by 0-10 to 0-5 and the losers were dealt a huge blow in the 40th minute when their influential midfielder McKernan was black-carded for innocuously knocking Sean Cavanagh over off the ball.

Harte swung over a simple free to stretch the gap to six and an excellent Bradley point in the 50th minute made it 0-12 to 0-5. Brothers Conall and Tiernan McCann swung over a couple of identical points to leave nine between the teams with three-quarters of the game gone.

Caolan Mooney powered through the Tyrone defence to smack over Down's first point of the second half in the 53rd minute and Ryan Johnston had the gap down to seven with 16 minutes left to be played in the 2017 Ulster football championship.

Fifteen minutes from the end, any lingering hopes of an unlikely Down comeback were extinguished when substitute O'Neill planted a low shot to the back of the net with his first touch to increase Tyrone's lead to ten points. Cunningham came upfield from between his posts to drill a Down free between the uprights and the Down custodian then did brilliantly at the other end to deflect a goalbound Hampsey effort over his crossbar - 1-15 to 0-8 with an hour played.

O'Hanlon despatched a free from his hands and Mooney brought Down into double figures before O'Neill delivered his second major in the 64th minute - a real thing of beauty as the Omagh man delightfully lobbed the ball over Cunningham to the net from close range.

There was a lengthy delay as Down substitute Mark Poland received treatment after sustaining a nasty facial cut in an accidental collision with Colm Cavanagh, with Tyrone corner back McCarron dismissed for a second yellow card over his part in the handbags that followed. With the game over, O'Hanlon (free), Mooney and substitute Joe Murphy pulled back injury-time consolation points, while Donnelly and substitute Lee Brennan were happy enough to take their points at the other end with goal chances on.

Substitute David McKibbin and O'Hanlon (free) lofted over the last two scores for Down, but it was Tyrone's day in north county Monaghan and there could be plenty more to come from this team before the season is over.

Tyrone - N Morgan; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; T McCann (0-1), P Hampsey (0-3), P Harte (0-2, 1f); C Cavanagh, C McCann (0-1); D Mulgrew (0-1), N Sludden (0-1), K McGeary: M Bradley (0-2), S Cavanagh (0-2, 1f), M Donnelly (0-3). Subs: D McClure for K McGeary (BC), G McCurry for S Cavanagh, R O'Neill (2-0) for M Bradley, C Meyler for D Mulgrew, C McShane for C McCann, L Brennan (0-1) for N Sludden.

Down - M Cunningham (0-1f); N McParland, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; D O'Hanlon (0-4, 3f), C McGovern, C Mooney (0-3); K McKernan, N Donnelly (0-1); P Turley, C Maginn (0-1), S Millar (0-1); J Johnston, C Harrison, R Johnston (0-2). Subs: J Murphy (0-1) for K McKernan (BC), D McKibbin (0-1) for P Turley, D O'Hare for J Johnston, M Poland for S Millar, A Carr for N Donnelly, S Dorman for C Maginn.

Referee - J McQuillan.

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