Late scores see Tyrone defeat Down
Down 1-8 Tyrone 1-11
Joe McMahon and Conor Laverty were both sent-off as Tyrone overhauled Down in a stirring second half at Páirc Esler.
The Mourne men, who led by 0-7 to 0-5 at the break, fell away in the closing stages as Sean Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill pointed Tyrone home.
It was 1-8 apiece after quick-fire goals from Mark Donnelly and Donal O’Hare, but the Red Hands found an extra gear to push on for their opening Division 1 victory.
Three points without reply from Conor Clarke, Cavanagh and captain O’Neill, who landed a beauty from the sideline, did the trick late on for Mickey Harte’s side.
Tyrone centre-back McMahon was dismissed for his second bookable offence in the 57th minute, and Down’s Laverty picked up a second yellow card at the end of this feisty and at times ill-tempered league opener.
The refereeing of Barry Cassidy was not to Tyrone manager Harte's liking. Indeed, in a post-match interview, he said: “I’m still looking for consistency in refereeing. And I didn’t see it there tonight.”
Benny Coulter may have grabbed some midweek headlines with his view that the league is not ‘the be-all and end-all’, but he was central to Down’s early surge here in Newry.
The former All-Star forward pointed twice as the hosts took a 0-5 to 0-2 lead by the 15-minute mark. Free-taker O’Hare hit two points, with newcomer Connaire Harrison also converting a placed ball.
Down maintained a high work-rate, setting up a sweeper system in defence to combat the Dr. McKenna Cup champions’ potent attack. Late inclusions Benny McArdle and O’Hare - they started in place of Darren O’Hagan and Paul McComiskey - also made their mark.
Tyrone brought Justin McMahon into their team for midfielder Plunkett Kane who failed a late fitness test. However, they struggled to get going with Cavanagh (free) and league debutant Connor McAliskey, set up by McMahon, landing their early scores.
Goalkeeper Niall Morgan fired over a long range free for the Red Hands, only for busy wing back Ryan Mallon to stretch Down’s advantage.
Another player new to league football, Mallon delighted the home support with a brace of points which made it 0-7 to 0-3. His first was the best of them, hammered over from wide on the right.
At the other end, Tyrone skipper O’Neill was kept largely quiet apart from a shot that struck the post, while Peter Harte almost found the net amid a goalmouth scramble.
It fell to their new forward colleague McAliskey to answer back for Harte’s charges, with O’Neill providing the assist. Net minder Morgan also tagged on a late free, awarded for a foul on O’Neill, to reduce the arrears to two points at half-time.
That came after a couple of notable goal-scoring chances - Cathal McCarron got in the way of a 13-metre effort from Coulter, while a superb stop from Down’s Michael Cunningham denied McAliskey.
A two-point buffer was not much to show for what was a strong first half showing from James McCartan’s outfit, and Tyrone were ominously first out of the traps on the resumption.
O’Neill continued to grow in influence, pointing inside 20 seconds and Morgan missed a free after a very good fetch from substitute Conor Clarke.
O’Hare got Down back on track with a pointed free, but Tyrone were beginning to click up front and goalkeeper Cunningham excelled again when saving from Ryan McKenna.
O’Neill cut the gap to a single point, finishing off a break led by the workmanlike McCarron, and the sides were level when Clarke added his name to the scoresheet.
Tyrone nipped into the lead soon after, Martin Penrose and McAliskey laying the groundwork for Donnelly to fire home his 50th minute goal.
Down’s response was immediate though, as O’Hare punched to the net at the end of a pacy attack. McMahon’s dismissal for a second yellow card gave the home side further encouragement.
Clarke then picked off his second point to move Tyrone 1-9 to 1-8 ahead on the hour mark, and the 14-man visitors received a further boost with Ronan O’Neill’s long-awaited return from a cruciate knee ligament injury.
The young Omagh clubman was sprung from the bench for the closing 10 minutes during which his side gradually turned the screw. Down’s challenge faltered at just the wrong time and Cavanagh and O’Neill gleefully clinched the away win.