It would be reasonable to say that Tyrone teams better than this have not successfully defended their All Ireland title and the journey to the next bid began here in Enniskillen with a win over the home side.
But it ended in great frustration when Conor McKenna, who had been a key figure in boosting Tyrone’s performance when he was introduced at half-time, received a red card deep in injury time. It came from a short range near the Fermanagh goal, which also resulted in bookings for Brandon Horan and Ryan Lyons.
Tyrone advances to the quarterfinals where they face Derry in Omagh. They will have mixed feelings after a game in which they took until the second half to find the higher gear and were only a point clear at the break.
Even at a time when football was heavily democratized, Fermanagh’s last league win against Tyrone was 40 years ago, a year in which they reached the Ulster final. You couldn’t say a win here was a realistic prospect, but they led by three points in the first half and were equal four times before Tyrone took the lead in the 15 minutes after the break.
McKenna had a major impact on that transformation, scoring two points and being involved in their second goal in the 52nd minute, opening an eight-point lead, executing a possession switch with Conn Kilpatrick and seeing his attempt on goal bounce off a post before Sub Liam Duffy was done.
Fermanagh couldn’t live with Tyrone after starting an equalizer in the second half when Darragh McGurn turned and fired powerfully, with a goal quite possible. Instead, it went over the bar and that was cue for Tyrone to roll up his sleeves. It was 23 minutes before Fermanagh scored again. Pushed back in their own half, they conceded 1:8 without an answer.
They drew some solace from a spirited finish that scored two unlikely goals and gave Tyrone, who started without Peter Harte and Matte Donnelly, much to think about. Josh Largo Ellis sped through for the first time in the 66th minute and two minutes later, quick thinking from Seán Quigley after a hastily taken free set brought Conall Jones by a second. The final result of the game left Fermanagh seven points behind.
Tyrone needs to improve as he negotiates the tougher side of the Ulster draw. They finished the league on a strong shot, beating Kerry preceded by a win over Mayo which lifted them out of relegation troubles.
But several pullbacks have weakened the body and could show up over the summer. Here they missed out on Harte’s inspiration, particularly in the first half when he was recovering from a recent appendectomy.
It’s been seven years since Fermanagh faced Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park and four years since they reached the Ulster final after victories over Armagh and Monaghan, but they haven’t won a league game since.
You now turn to the Tailteann Cup.
The first half lacked that familiar championship edge, and more than once voices were heard calling for more effort from the Tyrone players. They went 1-6 to 0-8 at halftime and were slightly flattered to be up front.
The winning goal came after 33 minutes, when Conor Meyler saw space open in front of him after Fermanagh’s players had been fielded in the previous attack. He walked on, smelling blood and finding his place, a gentle concession, the only goal of the half.
In the sequence of play immediately prior, an uplifting result from Quigley resulted in Fermanagh flipping Tyrone. They led by three points when Lyons scored in the 23rd minute and Tyrone struggled to find satisfactory fluidity in their game.
They started with a brilliant goal from Darragh Canavan but had lost Michael O’Neill to a black card within the first minute. Fermanagh had a scoring chance when they created an opening down the middle of Tyrone’s defense in the 18th minute, only for Conall Jones to hoof the ball up and luckily finish with a point while James McMahon fell into a reverse, they kept one tight defense in defence, with the exception of Meyler’s goal.
Before the end, Tyrone had the luxury of knocking out one of their better starting forwards, Darren McCurry, who ended 0-6.
Goalscorers – Tyrone: D McCurry 0-6 (2m, 2f); C. Meyer, L. Rafferty 1-0 each; C. McShane 0-3 (1f); C McKenna 0-2; C Kilpatrick, K McGeary, D Canavan, M Conroy, B Kennedy (m), N Sludden each 0-1. Fermanagh: C Jones 1-1; S Quigley (1f, 145), R Lyons 0-3 each (1f); J Largo Ellis 1-0; J McMahon, D McGurn, G Jones (f) 0-1 each.
Tyrone: NMorgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; R Brennan, F Burns, C Meyer; C Kilpatrick, B Kennedy; K McGeary, M O’Neill, N Sludden; D McCurry, C McShane, D Canavan. Subtitle: C McKenna for O’Neill (ht), L Rafferty for McGeary (49), M Conroy for McCurry (57), B McDonnell for Kennedy (60), C Shields for Canavan (68).
Fermanagh: S McNally; J Cassidy, R O’Callaghan, L Flanagan; McCusker D, Breen A, McMahon J; R Jones, B Horan; J Largo Ellis, C Jones, R Lyons; C Corrigan, S Quigley, D McGurn. Subtitle: O Kelm for O’Callaghan (55), J McDade for Breen (58), G Jones for Corrigan (58).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/conor-mckenna-red-a-black-mark-as-tyrone-eventually-get-up-and-running-41560076.html Conor McKenna has a black spot red marked as Tyrone finally gets up and runs