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Page last updated at 21:26 GMT, Sunday, 19 July 2009 22:26 UK

Red Hands subdue Saffrons

By John Haughey
At St Tiernach's Park

An Antrim fan at Clones
Antrim supporters turned out in droves at Sunday's provincial decider

A deafening roar sounded as the Antrim team bounded out on to St Tiernach's Park.

There had been tales of three-hour traffic jams on the main road from Monaghan Town but the Saffrons' fans all appeared to have jammed into the Clones amphitheatre.

Antrim's supporters had seemingly annexed the Clones Hill for the afternoon and almost drowned out the cries of those normally most audible of Tyrone throngs.

As the well-toned Antrim players performed their almost excruciating-looking warm-up routine of press-ups and sit-ups, the Saffron noise suggested a belief that the county's 58-year barren spell without an Ulster title might be about to end.

And Antrim started brightly enough with the Aussie Rules-bound Niall McKeever fetching a couple of great balls early on and helping set up Paddy Cunningham for the opening score.

But by the quarter-hour the game was effectively already out of Antrim's reach as Tyrone had plundered an unanswered 1-4 without having to even approach top gear.

Sean Cavanagh's 11th-minute goal was simplicity itself as he left Aodhan Gallagher and McKeever for dead to waltz through the Saffrons' defence unchallenged after a one-two with Brian Dooher.

"Sean's that type of player. He ghosts in from nowhere. The goal was a real turning point in the game," said rueful Antrim manager Liam Bradley afterwards.

"For every score we got, they always seemed to come back to the other half of the field and tag on another.

"They were always keeping that four, five or six points in front of us. They just saw out the game at the tail end.

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"Tyrone were by far the better team. I'd be clutching at straws to think that we were good enough on the day to beat Tyrone. We weren't good enough."

But if the Baker was beginning to sound a tad despondent, in the next breath he was vowing that his troops would regroup for their outing in next week's qualifiers.

"I'll be saying to the players in the changing room that they can lie on their bellies or they can get up and fight next weekend.

"I firmly believe this team is going places.

"It was a learning experience here today and a cruel learning experience, one might say. But look, we'll be back.

"These boys will be up for the qualifiers. We're not going to let one defeat end our season.

"Whoever meets us next week will know that they have been in a game.

"This team wants to play at Croke Park this year and I firmly believe they will be at Croke Park in a couple of weeks in the quarter-finals."

Antrim manager Liam Bradley
Antrim manager Liam Bradley reacts after another Tyrone score

A few feet away, Paddy Cunningham was talking into half-a-dozen recording devices of various hues after ending up on the losing side despite kicking 11 points.

"A lot of boys underperformed. We all underperformed," Cunningham corrected himself.

But the Lamh Dhearg player had clearly been moved by the massive turnout of Antrim fans who had worn their Saffrons jerseys with pride.

"Leaving Belfast this morning in the bus, every car that passed us was an Antrim supporter.

"They were out in their droves in their hundreds and thousands. It was fantastic to see them.

"Hopefully it doesn't drop now that we've got beaten."

Across the corridor, Mickey Harte was talking to every Tom, Dick and Harriet of the press, just as he always does.

If only other sports managers were so accommodating.

As ever, Harte had made sure that his players had guarded against complacency and shielded them from the hype surrounding the Saffrons' return to the Ulster final stage after 39 years.

"You let people deal with their own business and we'll deal with ours," said Harte.

If we could go out and kill every team this year, we'd do it but we haven't managed to do that

Mickey Harte

"Antrim had to cope for them with what it was to be in the final and all the razzamataz that went with it.

"We had to cope with the fact that we'd be red-hot favourites and if we could deal with that and still play good football, we'd be OK.

"We were always ahead enough on the scoreboard not to be totally scared.

"But we were always cautious because we couldn't say that the game was out the gate," as he appraised a display which saw his side barely reaching third gear.

Harte didn't entirely agree with the suggestion that Tyrone's successful 2009 Ulster campaign had been characterised by "economy of effort" as they steeled themselves for greater challenges from down south.

"It's not as scientific as that. If we could go out and kill every team this year, we'd do it but we haven't managed to do that.

"We've managed to get by with enough to spare.

"We'd still love the perfect performance if we could get it but it hasn't happened yet."

Judging by the standard on show so far in the football championship, Tyrone probably won't need to reach perfection to retain their All-Ireland crown.



Final

Semi-finals

First round

Preliminary round

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see also
Antrim 0-15 1-18 Tyrone
19 Jul 09 |  The Championship
Harte happy after Ulster triumph
09 Jul 09 |  Gaelic Games
Bradley positive despite defeat
09 Jul 09 |  Gaelic Games
Final photos
19 Jul 09 |  Gaelic Games


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