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Tuesday 19 September 2017

Red Hand 'squeezes' past glens

Mickey Harte may be praying today for a return to what we have come to accept as the typical Irish summer.

His Tyrone veterans displayed their undoubted class and experience at Casement Park, but visibly wilted in the intense heat and allowed Antrim to blast their way back into contention.

In the end, the reigning Ulster champions had enough in the tank, and a sufficient lead, to safely negotiate their way through to a semi-final clash with either Monaghan or Down.

First-half goals from Kevin Hughes and Owen Mulligan gave them sufficient breathing space, and they held on in the face of an Antrim revival which saw Kevin Niblock grab a goal.

"You're always worried when that happens. The crowd started to get behind them as well, so it gave them a big lift," said Tyrone attacker Stephen O'Neill.

"Thankfully the boys round the middle and the half-back line squeezed that out and we got there."

O'Neill, who scored three points on his return after missing the entire NFL, admitted that the soaring temperature posed problems.

"It was tough, but it was tough for both teams," he said. "I don't think any team finds that easy; you just have to play through it."

And O'Neill felt that the Red Hands should have been able to close out the game after going nine points clear, rather than hold out on the back foot for a four points verdict.

"We probably should have, looking back on it, but it gives us something to work on."

Antrim goalscorer Kevin Niblock accepted that his 56th-minute strike probably came too late.

"It was a bit of a lift, but we had too much of a mountain to climb, it was a bit of déjà vu from last year," he said.

But he took heart from the second-half turnaround which saw the Saffrons finally come to grips with their opponents.

"I think once we went man-to-man, and every man had his own responsibility, it suited us better," he added.

In the end, the St Gall's man was ready to accept that Antrim's destiny was another foray into the qualifiers, and an opportunity to build on last year's progress.

"It will be five weeks now; it just depends who we get. I suppose in the second half we showed that we're not a bad side. We put up a good fight and we'd like to get a good run in the qualifiers and hopefully it's kind to us.

"We'll get back training hard, we'll take some positives out of this, a few negatives as well, and hopefully we'll get a good run."

Kevin Hughes, a powerhouse in the Tyrone midfield, swapped passes with Owen Mulligan for Tyrone's opening goal in the ninth minute.

And when Mulligan robbed Colin Brady of possession to drill home a second 20 minutes later, the Red Hands were eight points to the good.

They turned around with a 2-6 to 0-5 lead, and it could have been more. The rampaging Hughes constantly powered forward from midfield to get himself into scoring positions, and could have had a hat-trick by the halfway stage.

The advantage grew to nine as Seán Cavanagh, Stephen O'Neill and Philip Jordan tagged on points, but the final 25 minutes belonged to Antrim, who began to get the better of Hughes and Colm Cavanagh in midfield, where Aodhan Gallagher, Kevin McGourty and Michael McCann wielded significant influence.

Kevin Niblock drilled home a 56th minute goal and CJ McGourty brought his tally to four from play, but the tiring Red Hands were able to pick off points from frees on the breakaway to seal their place in the last four against either Monaghan or Down.

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