TYRONE’S dreams of winning a third consecutive Ulster Senior title have been dashed after they lost by 1-18 to 1-16 to Monaghan in the first round of the provincial championship at Healy Park.
It means that the Red Hands must again negotiate the All-Ireland Qualifiers as they slumped to a two point defeat in front of almost 16,000 fans. But it could have been worse, with only a late goal from Michael McKernan reducing the deficit right at the finish.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan for the reigning Anglo Celt holders during the opening half. They started brightly, with a series of well-taken points leaving them 0-5 to 0-2 ahead early on.
Cathal McShane, Niall Sludden, Padraig Hampsey and Lee Brennan all hit the target in perfect conditions. But then Monaghan fought back, with Conor McManus, Rory Beggan and Jack McCarron all impressing for them.
For all that, though, Tyrone were good value for a 0-8 to 0-6 advantage approaching the half-time break. Connor McAliskey, Matthew Donnelly and Lee Brennan continued to impress in front of goals, as the efforts of Frank Burns, Niall Sludden and Colm Cavanagh also boosted their confidence.
But then things took a turn for the worse. A fine attacking movement saw Monaghan go through the Tyrone defence, culminating in Vinny Corey scoring a goal from close range. A point soon after from Drew Wylie gave Monaghan a 1-7 to 0-8 half-time lead.
Mickey Harte replaced Colm Cavanagh at half-time, the Moy man struggling with injury and Tyrone’s problems also increased on the scoreboard. Points in quick succession from Jack McCarron and Ryan McAnespie left Tyrone needing an urgent response.
To their credit, they upped the tempo considerably as the game developed into an enthralling tussle. But they just couldn’t manage to immediately reduce the deficit. Points from Lee Brennan and Connor McAliskey increased their total, as Conor McCarthy and Rory Beggan responded for the visitors.
Now things were approaching a critical stage. Further scores from Peter Harte, Niall Sludden and Michael McKernan left the minimum between them and the stage was set for a dramatic finale when Connor McAliskey equalised.
But Tyrone just couldn’t finish the job and it was Monaghan instead to staged the grandstand finish. Five points from Conor McManus and Colin Walshe saw them put the tie beyond reach and ensured that Michael McKernan’s last gasp goal came too late to change things.