Rian O’Neill red card the difference as Tyrone keep Armagh at arm’s length

Kieran McGeeney’s side left to rue first-half sending off

All-Ireland SFC Group 2 Round 2: Tyrone 0-13 Armagh 0-11

These games are tight enough without having to try and win them with one arm tied behind your back. Armagh were never able to overcome a first-half red card for Rian O’Neill and it meant Tyrone were able to box off the two points and revive their All-Ireland series challenge. The home side were decidedly unimpressive themselves the further the game went on but the points are the points.

Ultimately, O’Neill’s sending off did huge damage to Armagh. It meant they ran themselves ragged chasing the game in the second half and although Tyrone weren’t exactly efficient about putting them away, they never had to extend themselves. It’s hard to believe they’d have been as comfortable facing a full 15.

Even when they had the full complement, Armagh were a bit listless and clumsy in the opening half. They should have had a goal inside the first minute but Conor Turbitt palmed his effort straight at Niall Morgan from point-blank range. It was brilliant goalkeeping from the Tyrone stopper but a little more care from Turbitt and Morgan wouldn’t have even been in the picture.

That miss set the tone. It was the sort of energy-sucking moment that was typical of Armagh’s first half. O’Neill pulled the resultant 45 wide on the left. They had four wides on the board inside the opening 11 minutes. Later, Ethan Rafferty overhit a crossfield ball and saw it bounce out of play. They were making hard work of straightforward tasks, as though they were trying to do the dishes with a toothbrush.


Tyrone were so much sharper from the off. They made use of a stiff enough first-half breeze, with Darren McCurry in particular filling his boots. He had four points on the board by the break, three of the from play, one of them – a collector’s item – off his right foot. Conn Kilpatrick stole inside for a mark, Mattie Donnelly landed one from distance. It was urgent, clinical stuff, the sort of display we haven’t seen from them since their All-Ireland two years ago.

And then they were handed the boon of O’Neill foolishly taking his leave. There was a bit of a skirmish around the Armagh D after a free, during which O’Neill got into a wrestle with Tyrone wing back Cormac Quinn. In the middle of it, he pressed down on Quinn’s face with his knees. That there wasn’t a huge amount of force in it cut no ice with linesman James Molloy – he called referee Martin McNally over and O’Neill was done for the day. His token protest suggested he knew he was banged to rights.

To Armagh’s credit, they posted the next score, a rousing effort from Rory Grugan. It sent them in at the break 0-8 to 0-4 down. Still with a pulse. Barely.

But if they were ever going to get the blood pumping, they needed to start reeling Tyrone in soon after the restart. And they definitely had their chances. Tyrone came out for the second half in contain mode, keeping Armagh where they could see them, daring them to come make a game of it. Had Kieran McGeeney’s side brought their shooting boots, they might have.

Reader, they hadn’t. So they didn’t. Despite being a man down, they had more shots than Tyrone in the second half. They had more scores than Tyrone in the second half. And crucially, they had more wides. Aidan Forker started the rot, skewing a bad one to get the second half under way. Andrew Murnin missed two bad ones, the first a gimme free. Even the normally dependable Grugan spilled one when it was badly needed.

At the other end, Tyrone weren’t doing anything special. McCurry popped a free, Conor Meyler materialised to plant one from the edge of the D. Coming to the hour mark, the home side were 0-11 to 0-5 ahead and looking comfortable with it. A goal would have wrapped it all up in a bow but Quinn struck the post after galloping through.

And so Armagh stuck in there. Oisín Conaty came off the bench and showed the starters where the posts were. Turbitt and Grugan iced a couple of regulation frees. And when Grugan jinked inside to land a brilliant effort on 67 minutes, the gap was down to three, 0-12 to 0-9. With Rafferty running himself to his last drop, they still had a slim chance.

It was Darragh Canavan who took it upon himself to tidy the game away. Two points in the closing stages fluffed the Tyrone cushion – both of them give-me-that-ball efforts on the run that ended the argument.

In the end, Armagh never got the margin down below two. It was valiant stuff to even get that close but ultimately, the sending off put stones in their satchels and they couldn’t make it up the mountain.

TYRONE: Niall Morgan; Michael McKernan (0-1), Ronan McNamee, Pádraig Hampsey (0-1); Cormac Quinn, Michael O’Neill, Peter Harte; Brian Kennedy, Conn Kilpatrick (0-1, mark); Conor Meyler (0-1), Joe Orguz, Niall Sludden; Darren McCurry (0-5, two frees), Mattie Donnelly (0-1), Darragh Canavan (0-3).

Subs: Kieran McGeary for Sludden (41 mins); Ruairí Canavan for Orguz (51); Aidan Clarke for Harte (64); Richie Donnelly for McCurry (68).

ARMAGH: Ethan Rafferty; Conor O’Neill, Aaron McKay, Aidan Forker; Greg McCabe, Callum Cumiskey, Jarly Óg Burns (0-1); Ben Crealy, Ciarán Mackin; Jason Duffy, Rory Grugan (0-4, two frees), Stefan Campbell; Conor Turbitt (0-2, one free), Rian O’Neill (0-1, free), Andrew Murnin (0-1).

Subs: Ross McQuillan for Cummiskey (h-t); Shane McPartlan for Crealy (44 mins); Oisín Conaty (0-2) for Campbell (46); Cian McConville for Turbitt (64); Aidan Nugent for McKay (69).

Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times