Tyrone determined to wreak revenge on Dublin for last year
Even Jim Gavin agrees this Tyrone team is a different beast to last year’s semi-finalists
Mattie Donnelly of Tyrone: until now, Tyrone were not ready for the penultimate leap. Photograph: Declan Roughan/Inpho
They all remember 2008. Brian Dooher’s freakish points. Tommy McGuigan’s toe poke. Hounding the Gooch into the realm of endangered (and eventually extinct) species. Pascal McConnell’s save. The insane pitch invasion.
Any Tyrone boy who witnessed ever-lasting greatness tells you what really mattered was the man sitting beside them in Croke Park.
The last All-Ireland final involving this relentless football county was billed as the defining moment of the decade.
History is unyielding. Kerry 0-3 Mickey Harte.
“Aye, in 2008 I was at the game,” said Pádraig Hampsey (this summer’s jailer of Conor McManus and Michael Murphy). “In the Cusack with my old lad.”
Michael McKernan was 10. “Only a cub. In the upper Hogan with my old boy. I just remember trying to get down when they won and getting lost on the way!”
McKernan recalls 2003 like thirtysomethings on this island see Italia ’90 through sepia lenses.
“I’d remember more about ’08 than ’03 and ’05, but I remember where I was when we first won it – in my auntie’s house in Eglish. I was five, wasn’t allowed to go, didn’t get a ticket. Too young.”
After squeezing the life out of Monaghan, the imprint on the imagination – to become their heroes – flows towards reality.
We don’t want to be known as a team that is happy to get to finals
Here they are. The generation created by Mickey Harte’s original winners. Some of the 2010 minor All-Ireland-winning side remain (Niall Sludden, Ronan O’Neill) while the newest brigade – Mark Bradley, Hamspey, Frank Burns, Kieran McGeary, Lee Brennan – have under-21 medals from 2015. Two Ulster titles in 2016 and 2017 along with three All-Ireland semi-final defeats since 2013 are proof that Tyrone never went away. All the while Harte was rebuilding a brand new team. He even had to see off an internal push for his removal while waiting for the current crop to mature.
Seán Cavanagh retiring last year means his younger brother Collie is all that remains from the 2008 panel.
Until now, Tyrone, according to new captain and recent veteran Mattie Donnelly, were not ready for the penultimate leap.
Recent history shows the transformative nature of All-Ireland finals upon Tyrone footballers. Semi-final defeats to Dublin last year, Mayo in 2013 and Kerry in 2015 were the justifiable failures that left the theory lying dormant.
“Probably,” Donnelly agreed, “as we needed to get this [semi-final] monkey off our backs, but we don’t want to be known as a team that is happy to get to finals. Tyrone have given a good account of themselves any time they have got to All-Ireland finals. We will be going out to make sure it is the same.”
Con O’Callaghan’s early goal ruined any chance of a contest in 2017. It forced Harte to brand them the best Dublin side he had encountered in 15 seasons.
Jim Gavin agrees that this Tyrone team are different to the largely same players who suffered last year’s thumping
“It was the most disappointing [defeat] as we didn’t perform as well as we should,” said Donnelly. “We are extremely determined not to be in this position again.
“We are like a family, like a brotherhood, there is a serious belief in each other. We have taken those knocks and it has helped us mature, which gets us through sticky patches but it is more so a great belief in each other, and a desire to be in each other’s company.
“I know it is a cliche but going into other All-Ireland semi-finals, we might not be completely confident in ourselves. This time we weren’t looking past it, we were looking through it – we knew the prize was on the other side.”
Jim Gavin agrees that this Tyrone team are different to the largely same players who suffered last year’s thumping. In two meetings since, both up in Omagh, Dublin overwhelmed them in a feisty league encounter but Tyrone clearly finished the stronger during the Super 8s.
“Before our game in Omagh they had just beaten Cork and Roscommon by a combined score of 7-44,” said Gavin. “That’s two games so that gives you different dimension to their game. They have scored 16 goals in the championship and over 160 points. This perception of them as a defensive team is not the case.
“Offensively they are very strong,” Gavin added before proceeding to list where each strength lies: “Conor McAliskey is playing very well for them up front. Bradley, Lee Brennan, Sludden are playing really well. The scores they get from Tiernan McCann, the last day Colm Cavanagh chipping in with a point from midfield, Peter Harte playing really well too and Frank Burns has been adaptable up front. So they don’t have a set group of players doing the scoring – it is shared around. Conor McShane when he popped up in Meath with that score for them shows the range of options they have. We are very aware of their offensive threats, yet they are still teak, tough and tight, as they always have been at the back. They are a very formidable team. I think it will complete differently on September 2nd.”
Or something similar to Tyrone’s previous All-Ireland finals this century. This time the boys from the upper deck, beside their fathers, are men on the field.