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Armagh edged out by Tyrone in hotly-contested McKenna Cup final contest

Armagh 0-14 Tyrone 0-16

Armagh’s wait for a McKenna Cup title will be extended into a 26th year after Tyrone claimed victory in a hotly-contested clash at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night.

The 11,000-plus spectators, who made the trip to the heart of ecclesiastical capital, were treated to an early season cracker as Micky Harte’s men narrowly squeezed through to claim their seventh title in eight years.

Armagh trailed for much of the second half but had a glorious opportunity to take the lead with a penalty six minutes from time, but Grugan – a dead ball specialist all night – skied his kick, reducing the arrears to a single point.

Three red cards in the closing stages – two for Armagh – highlighted the intensity at which this tie was played.

The game started well for Kieran McGeeney’s side after an early Darren McCurry free opened the scoring for the Red Hand men.

However, an early wave of Armagh pressure yielded a healthy four point return.

Jamie Clarke was proving elusive in the forward line, his movement wreaking havoc. Grugan profited with a free from the hard-work of the Crossmaglen man.

Niall Grimley added two more frees before Stefan Campbell who continued his impressive early season form with a fantastic point off the left boot from an acute angle.

McCurry and Grimley exchanged frees once more but last year’s All-Ireland finalists assumed control of the game. Five unanswered points gave the visitors a two point lead just before the half hour mark.

A Grimley free stemmed the tide for the Orchard county but Tyrone finished the half with two McCurry points just before the interval, going in at the break three points to the good.

Grugan reduced the deficit to two just after the break with another cool free before McCurry got his first from play with an exact replica of Stefan Campbell’s sublime effort in the first half.

And speaking of Campbell, the Lurgan man added the score of the game moments later – a long drive from distance.

Niall Morgan, the Tyrone stopper, notched over a free for Tyrone before Grimley and McNamee traded for either side.

Jamie Clarke got on the scoresheet, as he made the most of some defensive confusion over whether his catch was a mark or not, to slot nonchalantly between the sticks, reducing the arrears to two once more. He was removed from play minutes later.

Clarke’s clubman Rian O’Neill pointed expertly before the sides were all level again when Grugan slotted from distance, out on the right – yet another sublimely taken free kick.

A James Morgan red card (two yellows) was sandwiched in between two McCurry frees – the Cross’ mans studs raking down the head of Canavan; rightly earning a second yellow.

Just as it looked like the game was up for Armagh, then came the penalty for a clean lift off the ground during a goal-mouth scramble.

A one-point Armagh lead was instead a one-point deficit as Grugan’s spot kick sailed over the bar.

Then came the nastiest moment in the game which saw Gregory McCabe and Ronan McNamee shown their marching orders for striking and the fisty-cuffs continued as the pair made their way off the field. Both players will miss their respective league openers next weekend as a result.

Another McCurry free was quickly responded with a Grugan free kick but the game edged away from Armagh when Cathal McShane expertly accepted a mark on the 14-metre line, killing time and the game as he slotted over four minutes into stoppage time.

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