Typically thorny Tyrone tear up the prescribed All-Ireland script

Dooher defends county’s Covid reprieve as defiant display shocks favourites Kerry

They weren't supposed to win. That was the great unspoken all the way through the build-up to Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final.

The two-week extension handed to Tyrone by the GAA and Kerry might not have sat quite right with everybody, granted. But plenty in the association and around the country were happy enough to see the game played and avoid Kerry being given a walkover into the final. As long as Tyrone came down and did the decent thing, obviously.

But the hardy hoors from mid-Ulster had other ideas. In a display of pure thorny Tyroneness, they outfought and outlasted Kerry on Saturday night, seeing out extra-time on a scoreline of 3-14 to 0-22. It means they see their way into a final against Mayo in a fortnight’s time. And it will only be a fortnight – right lads?

"Yeah, I just hope the C-word does not raise its head again," chuckled goalkeeper Niall Morgan afterwards. "I don't think we'll get another pushback of a final from the GAA. We're just hoping everyone can stay safe and healthy.

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“You have to say fair play to the association and fair play to Kerry for agreeing to it. We’ll probably get another backlash now because we looked the fitter team out there. So we’ll probably get another backlash as to how badly affected we were.”

There was always going to be an elephant in the room here. Feargal Logan set the tone as soon as he sat down on Saturday night for the press conference. We asked him for his reaction to the game and straight away, he launched into a lengthy declaration of gratitude to everyone for the leeway Tyrone had been given.

“The reaction is we were treated very fairly by the association and we were more than appreciative of all that we got when ill-health struck our camp,” Logan said. “We’re more than thankful on that. If we say more than that it sounds as though you’re patronising and All-Ireland semi-finals are very sore defeats.

“But two weeks ago we were potentially out of the competition and that’s the relief I feel. I have to commend everyone – Kerry, everyone in the association who bore with us – and the Tyrone players who represented the county today with distinction.

“Resilience is born out of adversity. As I sit here I say absolutely sincerely that the last month for Tyrone football has been horrendous. Of course that brings with it a narrative and different slants are put on things that can cause all sorts of emotions and upset.

“We got back on the football field about a week ago and it worked. It did work and that’s going to be the collateral issue that surrounds something like that. We’re just delighted to be heading to an All-Ireland final.”

Deeply respectful

Given all that had happened, given that there has been and will be no shortage of people who reckon Tyrone have got away with one here, it seemed right to ask if they were feeling at all sheepish about how things had transpired. Logan is a reasonable chap and didn’t take any offence at the question.

“What I can say is that if we had trained collectively through the lockdown period or if we had played fast and loose with the regulations and with the truth and with the Covid situation, I would. But I would have to say, look, we did our utmost.

“The [case] numbers we have where we live are significant. Of course you feel sheepish. Of course you feel vulnerable, of course you feel weak in moments where ill-health strikes either your own house or your own community. So listen, of course we come here deeply respectful of everybody that kept us on the road and we don’t make that point lightly.”

It was at this point that one of the questioners started to bring up vaccinations. Which was the cue for Brian Dooher, sat to Logan's right and looking at the age of 46 like he could have put in a tidy hour at wing-forward, to start to get cranky.

“Look, hold on a minute,” he interjected. “Can I say something here? If this is coming at us to attack us here, which seems to be heading that direction. I’m not here . . .. We made a decision based on medical advice relevant to what happened and where we were. The medical advice was that we weren’t fit to field. We were told that.

“So I have a duty of care to those players next door to me. People mightn’t think that but was I going to put them out and [what if] something happened? I said no I’m not, I’d take the hit. And we were getting it [hassle] from the players for doing that. They weren’t happy I pulled their championship on them.

“I don’t want to get into this here now. But there’s been a kind of a slant here that we’ve tried to pull a fast one here. It was a factual thing based on the evidence. I don’t want to get into this here but if that’s the way this is going – which it seems to be listening to it – I’m in the wrong place.”

With that, Dooher was up and he was gone. Tyrone to the bone.

And in the final.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times