Cathal McShane’s 49th minute goal is ultimately what separated these counties in a gripping All-Ireland under-21 football final. It’s Tyrone’s first national title at this grade since 2001. That group ended up populating Mickey Harte’s senior panel as a golden era flowed.
Maybe it’s brewing again.
Unfortunately, Tyrone’s success is once again coupled with criticism of their on-field demeanour. In the ugly aftermath, both managers sought to avoid a war of words but the vast philosophical gulf in their approach to Gaelic football was all too evident.
"Maybe we need to get a small bit more cynical," said Tipperary manager Tommy Toomey. "There's a lot of stuff going on in these games and Tipperary have to learn and I think we will."
Do you think Tyrone were cynical? “Look, it’s just part of the game at the moment. Tackling off the ball, the rules are there to tidy this up. If they are not working, what can you do?”
Whilst Toomey was speaking, Tyrone manager Fergal Logan was blocked, by Tipperary officials, from entering the losing dressing room to offer his commiserations. A fuming Logan requested a moment to calm down.
“We went out to play the game in the right manner,” an unaware Toomey continued. “Tyrone went out to play the game their way. I’m afraid Tyrone beat us tonight and are deserved champions, they are leading on the scoreboard at the end of the game, that’s it.”
The repetitive fouling of Tipp’s brilliant midfielder Colin O’Riordan is mentioned.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Toomey continued. “We know how they play the game, how they play against referees and that’s how they win.
“We knew what we were coming into. We had the boys well versed what to expect verbally. I give great credit to Tyrone for the way they play football. I don’t think they should be going at that stuff. I think they are better at playing football. That was a very good game, if you take all those bits and pieces out of it.”
Logan had returned to the fringes of his celebrating tribe.
“A heartbreaking finish for Tipperary, I understand that heart break,” he said, immediately remembering the 1995 All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin. “I’ve spoken to a couple of their officials there and was not allowed in their dressing room. I think it’s gone a bit extreme. It’s pretty raw at the moment but I hope relations between Tipperary and Tyrone football don’t get to that pitch where we have guys putting people out of dressing rooms.
“But I can promise you this: I’ve told our men never to sledge or talk to people, not to conduct themselves cynically.
“There were boys buying frees on both teams. I’m just disappointed that would happen there in the GAA world.
“I don’t want to make a major fuss,” Logan stressed. “I thought it was a sporting game of football but maybe not, maybe others see it different.”
There have been far worse matches. And anyway, there are far more important things in life. The second half was delayed by 40 minutes due to two medical emergencies in the main stand. One resulted in the fatality of a Tipperary supporter after a cardiac arrest.
At that juncture a wasteful Tyrone, with 10 wides despite the wind advantage, trailed 0-7 to 0-5.
Tipperary will be disappointed to only hold a two-point lead thanks to 0-3 off Kevin O'Halloran's left boot, alongside scores from Josh Keane, big Ian Fahey and Bill Maher. But the best footballer on show was O'Riordan. It didn't result in a score, but he made the strongest statement of the opening half hour when towering over McShane to take man and ball in revenge for an earlier hit.
McShane had previously felled him with a ferocious, slightly mistimed, shoulder.
Longford referee Fergal Kelly also noted Keane’s name for a slap. Both were deserved yellow cards but Steven O’Brien’s trip and stamp on McShane surprisingly escaped sanction.
Tyrone started the second half livelier only for Ruairí McGlone to slide a goal chance wide of Evan Comerford’s far post. Still, two
frees and a
strike levelled matters.
O’Halloran instantly responded by stroking a long-range effort off the greasy surface. He cupped his ear to a Tyrone player as the ball sailed between the posts. Next, Keane’s third score made it 0-10 to 0-8. It seemed like Tipperary’s time.
“They probably thought at half time there was no way they would be beaten,” went Logan. “We thought that would be to our advantage because they would see the winning line and then begin to think about it. Whereas we went for broke.”
O’Halloran’s left foot threatened to dominate proceedings until he started firing duds; a 50-metre curling effort bounced off the crossbar. Another three frees drifted wide.
Then came the goal. McShane would have known the consequences of mining so deep into enemy territory but his heroics were rewarded.
Daniel McNulty’s accuracy from the placed ball kept Tyrone ahead.
As the seconds ticked down, McShane, with O'Riordan in his wake, shipped another heavy blow from Kevin Fahey but not before gifting Kavanagh a sight of the posts. That gave Tyrone a three-point cushion.
Battered and bruised, McShane finally departed.
O’Riordan almost stole back the trophy, first with a huge point as four minutes of injury time were signalled. Then he landed an unbelievable free from the right sideline.
Unstoppable now, the Tipp midfielder was on to the kick out, sending another ball into the square. Goalkeeper Sean Fox was fouled as Tyrone survived. Just.
At the end Michael Cassidy walked for a second yellow card but Tipperary couldn’t scale the white wall.