Brian Dooher: relentless certainty, fearless, indefatigable, undaunted

Influence of former captain on side line has helped Tyrone reach the All-Ireland final

 Tyrone joint manager Brian Dooher: ‘It’s hard to compare teams: teams move on, different players come along, but all you want is teams to give their best, work as hard as they can and that’s what they did.’ Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

Tyrone joint manager Brian Dooher: ‘It’s hard to compare teams: teams move on, different players come along, but all you want is teams to give their best, work as hard as they can and that’s what they did.’ Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

 

Everyone has their own particular image of Brian Dooher on the field of play. Relentless certainty, fearless, indefatigable and nothing less than undaunted.

For me it’s that image of Dooher 24 minutes into the 2008 All-Ireland final against Kerry: Tyrone captain again, relatively quiet up to the stage, he swept up possession well inside his own half and then took off down his right hand sideline, just in front of the Cusack Stand. Killian Young gave chase, only in vain, because with tremendous strength and determination Dooher dragged himself into a scoring position and fired over a magnificent point.

It drew Tyrone level, 0-6 to 0-6, and made Kerry absolutely clear they had a game on their hands, which they did: Dooher added another point in the second half and Tyrone won 1-15 to 0-14.

It was Dooher’s third All-Ireland win, second as captain, earning him his third All Star. It was also his last All-Ireland appearance as he retired in September 2011, a man of 16 seasons with Tyrone.

Tyrone made it back to the 2018 final, losing to Dublin, only now they’re back again and this time with Dooher on the sideline. It’s just 10 months since he agreed to share the bainisteoir’s bib along with Feargal Logan – who he assisted in Tyrone’s Under-21 All-Ireland win in 2015 – and if there’s one thing that separates this Tyrone team from those of the recent past, especially in their semi-final win over Kerry, then it’s Dooher’s influence: relentless certainty, fearless, indefatigable and nothing less than undaunted.

Showdown

Indeed this is one of the first things put to Dooher when he holds court at the Tyrone training centre in Garvaghey, days before their 2021 final showdown against Mayo. Dooher turned 46 last month and still bears that bony, sunken face of a player who served his time in the trenches, yet says things such as work rate and intensity can only be driven in so deep by any management.

“There’s a bit of both, I suppose,” he says, “but most of it comes from within. If you want to do that, it’s not the nicest part of football. It’s energy sapping, it’s hard work, you can create the environment in training but you have to really want it in a match and thankfully that our lads do want that to an extent.

“Against Kerry, it was a chance to get to an All-Ireland final, which was the big thing. It was Kerry, surely, and Kerry are a great team, it was a big challenge for us. But you’re playing in an All-Ireland semi-final, you’ve the opportunity to get into the final, that was our primary aim, mine certainly.

“We had a lot of learning to take, obviously, from the six goals we conceded [in the league]; if we were going to concede six again we’d be in serious problems. That is one thing we had to look at and thankfully we did. We sailed close to the wind a few times, a bit too close for my liking, but thankfully got over line.”

Though Dooher describes that six-goal concession to Kerry in June as “embarrassing”, it may have been a turning point too: “Half of what they missed as well would have had them up into double figures probably so it was definitely a big wake-up call for us and the players. I suppose it put us right back to the drawing board again but probably looking back on that now we probably weren’t as bad as that, we’d a very bad day. We probably weren’t as good as where we thought we were or we were somewhere in between it, that’s always the way.”

Either way, like most people in Tyrone, Dooher could never have imagined just 10 months ago that Tyrone would be in this position. He’s moved on from his own playing days in other ways too, and is now deputy chief veterinary officer for the Department of Agriculture in the North, frequently making presentations in Stormont (he also breeds expensive cattle on the side).

Challenges

“That’s just the way things happen. We didn’t imagine anything, I suppose everyone wants to do the best that they can. They want to get to an All-Ireland final but you never think about that at the time, you’re think about the next game and the next one after that. Especially this year, you definitely haven’t had much time to think further ahead because games have been every couple of weeks and it’s good from a player point of view because there’s less training probably but it does create its own challenges from a preparation point of view.”

Asked how much he sees of his old Tyrone team – or rather Tyrone-essence – in this current team Dooher says: “It’s hard to compare teams: teams move on, different players come along, but all you want is teams to give their best, work as hard as they can and that’s what they did. They really upped their work rate, their intensity and that’s what we wanted to see. And we’re going to need to see a lot more of that, because that’s Mayo’s key strength, their work rate, their intensity off the ball. That’s one of the biggest challenges we’re going to face on Saturday.”

A challenge that’s often best greeted by first season managers, including Harte with Tyrone in 2003.

“People might say that, write about it, who knows? I supposed you come in and there is maybe a freshness, something different, I don’t know. When Mickey came into us in 2003 it worked for us. I think it’s the players, maybe they realised they have a point to prove again, maybe they’re out to prove a point to everybody.”

Relentless certainty, fearless, indefatigable and nothing less than undaunted.

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