IT was a case of so near yet so far following Cork’s Super 8 defeat at the hands of Tyrone in Croke Park on Saturday evening.
Former All-Ireland winners Peter Canavan and Kieran Donaghy were respectful of Cork’s efforts but far more impressed with Tyrone’s second-half performance to all but secure a place in the last four of this year’s championship.
The opening 35 minutes was a different story however as the Red Hand struggled to cope with Cork’s patient build-up and execution. It was a much different tale in the second half with Cathal McShane and Peter Harte (penalty) goals enabling the Ulster side to bounce back and set up a mouth-watering clash with Dublin up in Omagh in a fortnight’s time.
“I was convinced with the second-half performance,” former Tyrone star Peter Canavan admitted in the Sky Sports studio.
“They were lifeless and lethargic in the first half but came out with the bit between their teeth in the second half and there was a better appetite about them. Mickey Harte did make a couple of key changes most notably playing with two men in the inside forward line.
“Mattie Donnelly played alongside with Cathal McShane and he was a brilliant option. At times the sweeper didn’t know who to pick. There was brilliant refereeing by Maurice Deegan to allow the advantage for the build-up to McShane’s goal, an easy finish (in the end).”
Peter Harte’s second-half penalty proved a tight game’s crucial score and Kieran Donaghy believed the Tyrone forward’s conversion represented a killing blow to Cork’s aspirations. Up to that point, even though they were under constant pressure, Cork’s defence had managed to repel a succession of attacks until Dromore’s Neill Sludden was brought down en route to goal.
“I think, for Tyrone, the first goal was massive but the penalty was huge,” commented Donaghy.
“You know, it happens a lot in games, a fella makes a last-ditch tackle and manages to get away with it. Sometimes the slightest of hands on the back when the player is going forward (is enough).
"No better man to step over a penalty than Peter Harte. He scored 1-5 today. Harte is a leader all day for Tyrone and a real catalyst for this team.”
When asked if Tyrone’s efforts in seeing off a dogged Cork would be enough to topple reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin, Donaghy made the point that it was possible but a full 70-minute display would be required.
Tyrone’s ability to get the best out of a previously quiet Mattie Donnelly was paramount to overcoming the Rebels and moving the Trillick club man further forward reaped immediate dividends.
“Well, it was a tale of two halves (today) as the old saying goes,” Donaghy commented.
“Peter (Canavan) was right, they were listening to sure we have Dublin coming up here to Omagh in two weeks and that will decide it after we have beaten Cork. That type of talk can seep into a players head and their attitude was way off in the first half.
“No intensity, they weren’t tackling, weren’t working hard enough. A different team in the second though, their body language was different. You could see Mattie Donnelly fist-pumping the points and Cathal McShane celebrating his goal, getting the crowd going.”
Unsurprisingly, Mattie Donnelly was voted Man of the Match following another influential display, something that pleased former Tyrone forward Peter Canavan. Donnelly’s willingness to take the game by the scruff of the neck is what eventually tipped the balance in the Red Hand’s favour.
“The same happened last week against Roscommon when himself (Donnelly) and Peter Harte got on the ball,” Sky Sports pundit Canavan stated.
“Every time Tyrone came forward, Donnelly was showing. He wanted the ball and he wanted to make a difference. Even though at times there were two or three Cork men hanging off him, he had the composure and the physical strength to take men on. You simply can’t give Matt Donnelly that sort of space.”
“When your captain is at that stuff, that inspires the rest of your teammates,” Kieran Donaghy concurred.
“For Matt Donnelly, that’s massive and I think Mickey Harte didn’t want to show that card (playing Donnelly further forward). I think he was holding that ace up his sleeve. Cork did so well in the first that he couldn’t hold on any longer and said to himself I have just got to play it (ace).
“Donnelly was outstanding. He was a focal point for Tyrone’s attack inside along with McShane. The two of them, together, are going to be a handful for whoever they play down the line.”