Saturday night and bright sunshine greeted the thousands of supporters who filed into Healy Park to watch Tyrone take on their old rivals Armagh in the third round of the qualifiers. The late evening sun certainly added to the occasion as the red and white of Tyrone blended with the orange of Armagh to create a very colourful spectacle both on the pitch and around the ground. The Healy Park pitch looked immaculate as all the recent maintenance work undertaken by Dimac Pitch Maintenance Specialists has resulted in delivering a superb playing surface.
Although it was a third round qualifier game this match had the feel of a real Ulster Championship clash as both sides went at it hammer and tongs. The first half in particular was laced with excitement and talking points as referee Marty Duffy allowed both teams to “go for it” and the spectators were kept on their toes as play switched from end to end with barely time to catch breath. This was exactly the sort of game the championship had been lacking in Ulster as wind assisted Armagh led Tyrone by double scores with just over thirty minutes on the clock.
However Tyrone produced something of a purple patch during the remaining minutes hitting 1-4 without reply to reach the break leading by four points. Their goal just before half time was the most important score of the half and came from the unlikely source of Joe Mc Mahon who was playing full back. I am not saying that Joe is not recognised as a goal scorer as he has rattled the net before, most famously against Dublin in the rain in Croke Park, but full backs are not expected to pop up as close to the opposition’s goal as Joe did and score. But the big Omagh man, who appears to be sporting a beard again, is no ordinary full back as he showed last night.
After a fairly competitive start he dominated Billy Joe Padden and gave a master class of defending catching, tackling, blocking and setting up attacks with a hugely impressive display that was one of many highlights for Tyrone. Some of his football was majestic to say the least and one catch in particular when he appeared to lift the ball right out of the hands of Padden was of the highest order. But it was his goal that had most people talking not because of the quality of the finish but because of the hard work that went into creating it. Joe followed Padden all the way to the opposition thirteen metre line as he forced his opponent to play the ball back to his keeper. Joe continued the chase and successfully harassed Hearty in the Armagh goals to panic and fumble his clearance which was intercepted by the ever alert Peter Harte. The Errigal attacker popped the ball straight back to his colleague who had the simple task of palming the ball to the net.
This goal turned the game very much on its head and although Armagh managed to close the gap to just a point with three scores early in the second half Tyrone never looked in trouble. Much of their composure and assurance came from the display of Mc Mahon at full back as he thwarted numerous Armagh forays forward and was on hand to turn defence into attack as he surged forward with menace at every opportunity. This was a masterclass of full back play and once again showed the versatility of the Omagh man who was deservingly most peoples’ man of the match.