REIGNING champions Tyrone got their McKenna Cup campaign off to the perfect start on Wednesday night when they fired four goals past their hapless opponents to go into pole position for a record seventh title in a row.
There was no stopping the Red Hands on their first encounter of 2018. Padraig McNulty, Niall Sludden, Connor McAliskey and Frank Burns all grabbed goals on a satisfactory debut for the county this year.
Both teams missed a number of scoreable chances during the opening stages before finally finding their respective ranges. But it wasn’t long before the Red Hands began to establish their authority on proceedings.
Early points courtesy of Matthew Donnelly and Lee Brennan saw them into a 0-3 to no score lead. While CJ McGourty responded for Antrim, Tyrone’s control was being firmly established throughout the field.
Michael McKernan, Tiarnan McCann and Hugh Pat McGeary were prominent in the defence as Cathal McShane and Padraig McNulty won a lot of possession around midfield. Up front, the returning Connor McAliskey looked lively while Niall Sludden, Frank Burns and Mattie Donnelly also impressed.
Antrim, though, weren’t being totally outclassed. Michael McCarry and Matthew Fitzpatrick tried hard and CJ McGourty posed their main attacking threat. However, the task facing them was soon becoming even more evident as the reigning champions really got into their stride.
Connor McAliskey increased their advantage at the end of the first quarter. CJ McGourty and Ryan Murray boosted the Saffron account, but that was as goo as it got for them as the period immediately before the interval break saw Tyrone forge ahead in dramatic fashion.
The grand total of 1-5 to 0-1 in the final 10 minutes of that first half effectively ended the game as a contest. Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly made the score 0-7 to 0-3, and then Frank Burns fired over three points in quick succession.
That set up the decisive score of the half which duly arrived with the opening goal four minutes from the break.
A great run through from Niall Sludden saw him set up Padraig McNulty who made no mistake with a low hard shot to the net.
It was a brilliantly taken strike that left Tyrone 1-10 to 0-3 and there was little indication of where Antrim could retrieve matters although CJ McGourty did complete the half-time scoring as they sought to fight back from a nine point interval deficit.
Normal service was resumed in double-quick fashion on the resunmption as well. Within minutes, Darren McCurry had stretched the lead to 1-12 to 0-4 and the second goal soon after really set the seal on matters for them.
It came in a classic counter-attack movement. Matt Fizpatrick’s shot rebounded off the crossbar for Antrim at one end, but the Tyrone defence was alert and their movement culminated at the other end when Nial Sludden set up Connor McAliskey who grabbed the second goal.
The only blip for Tyrone came when Callum Duffin capitalised on indecision at the back to pounce on a loose ball to score. However, it was never going to make any difference to the final outcome as the title-holders strolled comfortably to the finish line.
The one-sided nature of proceedings was emphasised still further entering the final quarter when they added two more goals. Frank Burns got the first when his speculative lob went all the way to the net and then Niall Sludden completed the route with goal number four with only 10 minutes remaining.
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