Errigal once again facing the best in the business
Ulster Club SFC Semi-finals:Twice they have met Crossmaglen and twice they have beaten them but can they do it again?
When Errigal Ciarán and Crossmaglen met 10 Novembers ago, it took three full games to separate them. It takes a bit of imagination to reconfigure the football landscape as it was then. Armagh folk were still slightly dizzy from their maiden All-Ireland football success of that September.
But Tyrone had yet to win a senior All-Ireland and nobody expected that to change any time soon. The odds were slanted for this quarter-final. True, Errigal Ciarán had the Canavan brothers and the silky Eoin Gormley in their ranks. But Cross’ looked as they always look on misty winter Sundays: indomitable. So nobody really expected the Tyrone men to prevail and certainly nobody expected the three-match page-turner which evolved.
“I remember those games very clearly,” says Ronan McGuckin, Errigal Ciarán’s manager this season. “I was a part of that Ballinderry team who were waiting to play the winners in the final. So I was at all three games. And they were fabulous games at that time.”
The clubs had met just once previously, when an electrifying return of 1-9 for Eoin Gormley helped Errigal Ciarán win by two points in 1997.
But by 2002, Crossmaglen had become a machine, threshing the ambitions of clubs across Ulster. They were eight points to the good going into the last quarter against the Tyrone champions and it seemed to be business as usual.
“I thought it was a lost cause,” admitted Mickey Harte, Errigal’s manager at time.
In fact, Harte was in the running for the vacant Tyrone post at the time and as someone remarked in the press box: “If he wins this, he’ll be in pole position.” And in a move that presaged a famous introduction he would make when managing Tyrone, Harte withdrew Peter Canavan – who had suffered a dead leg – early in the match only to reintroduce him late in the game when Errigal Ciarán were in the midst of an outrageous comeback.
“Nice to have a player like that to bring on, even on half a leg,” Harte said.
They met again a week later and after extra time, the score was 1-10 to 1-10. As the teams prepared for the replay, Harte was appointed Tyrone manager. Three days later, the Tyrone men went out and beat Crossmaglen by three points and then knocked out Ballinderry, leaving them in an Ulster final against Enniskillen. Afterwards, Harte made a point which set the tone not just for Errigal Ciarán but for Tyrone football in the season ahead.
“What’s the value of playing Crossmaglen three times and Ballinderry if you don’t go out and perform in the next match? There were no cups or medals handed out for this. Enniskillen next weekend is where that happens.”
Errigal Ciarán kept on rolling in that Ulster final. That was the beginning of a fabulous year for Harte and the other club men on the county scene. Ten months later, Tyrone were All-Ireland champions for the very first time. It is tempting to attribute some of that success to their top club’s eventful winter campaign.
Effect on Tyrone
“It is an interesting point,” McGuckin says. “There are a multitude of reasons as to why Tyrone won but I am sure their success on the provincial scene had a positive influence on the psyche of the Tyrone players in general. They saw their club going on and competing at the highest level. “I suppose that Mickey’s appointment was the most important turning point in Tyrone’s rise to prominence so when you look at it that way, those games might have been a fulcrum for how everything turned out for Tyrone in the intervening years.”