A most eventful rivalry: 33 years of the Dublin-Tyrone files

This weekend sees the counties meet for the eighth time in championship

Prologue 1984 

In those days Ulster teams weren't expected even to travel hopefully apart from those years when they were rotated against the Connacht champions and one of them would get to experience an All-Ireland final.

For 23 years between 1968 and '91 the Leinster and Munster champions won all but one of their football semi-finals.

The GAA's Centenary Year wasn't any different and with Kerry having walloped Galway the previous week, Tyrone came to town to play champions Dublin. It was 11 years since the county had been Ulster champions. Back then Cork had dusted them off and they hadn't scored until the 32nd minute of the match.

It was ruefully reflected that had the GAA not expanded the playing time of a match in 1970, Tyrone would not have scored at all in the first half.


There was a feeling that teams coming to Croke Park to play Dublin could expect a certain amount of gamesmanship. Then Tyrone manager Art McRory explains.

“You’ve no idea what it was like for a northern team to play Dublin in Croke Park. We stayed out in Malahide and I said to the county chairman, ‘there’s going to be a row at the gate’. He said to me we hadn’t been issued with tickets of any description. So I said we’ll be left standing outside for at least half an hour.

“He said to take it easy and we’d see what happened. Anyway we got down on the team bus at about half-one and there was the chairman with tickets, handing them out. I said to him, ‘I’ve read this wrong, again, have I?’

“He says to me, ‘no. I’ve been waiting here 45 minutes telling them that the team was outside on the bus.’”

After a feisty decision to pre-empt the Dubs by practising into Hill 16 – in those days there was no formal allocation of ends – the match slipped away but two years later they returned and for three-quarters of the final, threatened a sensation against Kerry.

A most eventful rivalry  

It is probably the most eventful rivalry of recent times. Dublin and Tyrone have been playing championship matches for just 33 years and this Sunday is only their eighth. Dublin’s tussles with Kerry have probably been more determinant in terms of the All-Ireland but Dublin-Tyrone has nearly always been a key contest in deciding championships and have generated crowds and controversies.

This weekend is likely to be the latest in that category. The current Dublin team cut their teeth on a previously dominant Tyrone in the quarter-finals of 2010 and ’11 and the question that arises now is whether the relationship is about to change with Mickey Harte’s young, energetic side straining at the leash to execute the type of iconoclasm that announced the county’s arrival at the top table 14 years ago.

It’s a reversal of roles from the contests of six and seven years ago but while Dublin have plenty of personnel from those summers there are also more recent recruits and the world at large sees the champions as being overwhelmingly more likely to reach this year’s final.

The long walk 1995 

After years of banging on the door, Dublin finally won the All-Ireland. A four-match saga with Meath, defeats in two finals and one semi-final might be all in a day’s work for the current Mayo team but it had almost created sympathy for Dublin by 1995.

Tyrone were seeking to translate back-to-back U-21 All-Irelands into a senior success that would extend Ulster’s winning sequence to five.

Dublin made it but in controversial circumstances. Charlie Redmond was sent off early in the second half but didn't leave immediately. After play restarted he remained on the field for 28 seconds until his continuing presence was noted by Tipperary referee Paddy Russell, who hadn't heard the last of these counties, and he was conclusively dismissed.

Down to 14 men, Dublin hung on for a one-point win. It was the end of the team. Having fallen over the line, they wouldn’t add to their titles and it would be 16 years before anyone else on the county did.

A most eventful rivalry II 

The relevance of this pairing can be seen in the fact that only once have they played when one of them wasn’t either defending champions or on the way to that year’s All-Ireland.

More to the point the fixture itself has often been a critical influence on the teams even if on just one occasion, it has played out in a final. The wins over Dublin in 2005 and ’08 were transformative for Tyrone and provided the momentum – and in that first year under the pressure of a five-point half-time deficit, Harte discovered the re-configured team – that took them to the All-Ireland title on both occasions.

Similarly the two most recent matches that ended in victory for Dublin were hugely significant. When Eoghan O’Gara crashed the rebound from Paul Flynn’s shot into the Hill goal in the 65th minute of the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final it signalled that Pat Gilroy’s team were about to beat a top three county for the first time.

A year later and the gap had expanded to the point where Dublin were acknowledged as contenders themselves. The margin wasn’t enormously different, seven rather than five points, but they were no longer in Tyrone’s slipstream; soon they wouldn’t be in anybody’s.

League encounters between the teams have also been feisty affairs. On all three occasions when Tyrone were All-Ireland champions, the match with Dublin the following spring has been memorable and not necessarily for the right reasons.

Tipperary referee Paddy Russell must have wondered what sort of karma vacuum hoovered him up for these matches. After the 1995 All-Ireland controversy, he took control of the league matches in 2004 and ’06. In the first he had to issue 10 yellow cards, two of them for the red-carded Stephen O’Neill.

The second, two years later, was even worse. The Battle of Omagh saw 14 yellow and four red cards in an ill-tempered and undisciplined match. “God almighty couldn’t have refereed that,” was Mickey Harte’s weary summation of events.

More edifying league matches launched both the Croke Park floodlights and two years later in 2009 the GAA’s 125 celebrations. Crowds of around 80,000 came to both.

“It was everything you’d want on a big All-Ireland day, almost, but it’s only February,” said Harte in 2007.


Art McRory remembers the aftermath of taking Tyrone to Dublin in 1984.

"Later that year we were in Newcastle for the first match in the league. I saw Paddy Downey (Irish Times) and Peadar O'Brien (Irish Press) who had shredded us for going down to the Hill, arriving in the same car. I went over to them and said, 'I've often heard that if you read one 'paper, you've read them all; I can see why!

“Can you tell me what end we should go to, to practice? Apparently we went to the wrong end in Croke Park and we don’t know where to go here. At least Paddy Downey had the manners to look sheepish!”

If there was a defining difference between then and now?

“Back then the main ambition was to win Ulster. Anything else was a bonus.”

Whatever thoughts occupy Mickey Harte’s mind this weekend it’s safe to say that being in ‘bonus territory’ won’t be among them.

Dublin v Tyrone SFC meetings

Played 7 Dublin 4 Tyrone 2 Draw 1

1984: Dublin 2-11, Tyrone 0-8

First championship meeting, All-Ireland semi-final. Tyrone warm up into the Hill, greeted by crowd disturbance and Garda intervention. No such complications for Dublin.

1995: Dublin 1-10, Tyrone 0-12

Only All-Ireland final between the counties. Controversy when Dublin goal scorer Charlie Redmond is sent off but doesn't immediately leave the field. Peter Canavan scores all but one of Tyrone's points. Dublin manage to hold on.

2005: Tyrone 2-18, Dublin 1-14 (Tyrone 1-14, Dublin 1-14)

First meeting in All-Ireland quarter-final. Tyrone forced to retrieve five-point interval deficit and helped by Owen Mulligan’s famous goal. Replay sees Mickey Harte’s team comfortable winners on the way to a second All-Ireland title.

2008: Tyrone 3-14, Dublin 1-8

Brilliant Tyrone performance in monsoon conditions reconstitutes their championship and launches them to another All-Ireland. Dublin, 1/3 favourites are beaten by 12 points in the quarter-finals.

2010: Dublin 1-15, Tyrone 0-13

This All-Ireland quarter-final was the crucial result in Pat Gilroy’s rehabilitation process. For the first time in 20 years Dublin actually win a championship fixture as underdogs.

2011: Dublin 0-22, Tyrone 0-15

A year later at the same stage and their graph lines have irretrievably crossed. This is the signature performance of an All-Ireland wining campaign. Diarmuid Connolly kicks seven from play off three markers.