Under 21 Shamrock Cup final
TYRONE won their fourth Shamrock Cup title with a five points win over Antrim at Cremartin on Sunday.
Two Frank Burns goals in the first half gave the Red Hands the platform that saw them hold off a spirited Saffron challenge.
Fergal Logan’s side managed just four points in the second half but could have had three more goals but for the brilliance of Antrim goalkeeper Ronan Hanna.
With four wins from as many outings in the pre-season competition organised by the Cremartin club, Tyrone have laid a solid foundation for the championship challenge that lies ahead, starting with a difficult first round tie against the winners of the preliminary round clash of Derry and holders Cavan.
Two accurately struck frees from Enda McGahan eased Tyrone into an early lead, but Antrim gradually played their way into the game tackling tenaciously at the back with Andrew Flood nipping a promising attack in the bud with a well timed challenge on Michael Cassidy.
The Saffrons opened their account in the ninth minute through Gary Lennon but the Red Hands, with Conal McCann and the excellent Conor McAleer getting on top at midfield, responded with scores from centre back Ruairi Brennan and Conor Meyler.
But at the beginning of the second quarter Antrim stepped up the tempo with Owen Gallagher and Domhnail Nugent stepping it up in the central region.
Ronan McGrady, always a threat at full forward, swung over a point and followed up moments later with an excellent effort from a tight angle. And when wing back Ruairi Wilson pushed forward to shoot a point, the sides were level.
Tyrone sensed the danger and began to play with more urgency and purpose in the last 10 minutes of the half.
Wing backs Michael McCann and Kieran McGeary were always willing to push forward and it was Brennan who provided the perfect pass into space for full forward Philip Barker to shoot them back in front.
In the 22nd minute Burns grabbed the first of his goals with a dipping shot that deceived goalkeeper Ronan Hanna and Tyrone hit 2-3 in the remainder of the opening period, conceding just a point.
Cassidy, McCann and McGahan were all on target and it was the latter who won a penalty in stoppage time which Burns slotted home for a 2-8 to 0-5 interval lead.
The first five minutes of the second half produced three more Tyrone points as they moved into a 12 points lead through McAleer, Cassidy with a fine solo effort and Johnny Munroe. But they allowed the intensity to slip and Antrim played their way back into contention with excellent full forward McGrady again leading the charge.
He clipped over a ’45 before netting a penalty conceded by Brennan who paid an additional price in the form of a black card.
The Red Hands, with Conal McCann winning the aerial battle at midfield, did respond but failed to make an impact on the scoreboard thanks chiefly to the heroics of Antrim goalkeeper Ronan Hanna.
He pulled off three terrific saves, the first of which denied Cassidy, who fired in a shot on the rebound after Barker had seen his fisted effort come back off the crossbar.
Ryan McKenna came off the bench to make a major impact, firing over a point, but two more goal chances went abegging, with Hanna saving from Munroe and Cassidy again.
The exploits of their keeper inspired the Saffrons who restricted their opponents to a single point in the final 20 minutes and reeled off the last four points themselves.
Three of them came from McGrady but they had left themselves too much to do. In the end Tyrone held on to win by five and lift the Shamrock Cup.