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As Others See Us…. Musings Of An Offaly Man
End of a Great Team – A Tyrone Tribute
I don’t normally post like this, but I felt I wanted to this morning. As I watched the events in Croke Park unfold before my eyes yesterday evening, it became apparent that we were probably seeing the end of one of the great teams of recent times. As Dublin powered for home and brushed aside the despairing challenge of Tyrone, I was transfixed by the sight of players who had graced the fields of Ireland for a decade unable to match this new power on the block, and the symbolism of Conor Gormley, a warrior among warriors, flailing and fouling helplessly was a stark metaphor for what we were seeing.
When the game ended I, as a neutral, felt sad for the vanquished, and happy for Dublin, but I also started to consider what this Tyrone team meant, not as a fan, but as an observer. And as an observer whose own team seldom came into the same sphere as Tyrone in the past decade, and certainly never in the championship.
Pat Spillane coined the phrase ‘puke football’ after one of the early Kerry defeats to Tyrone (a 0-13 to 0-6 victory in the 2003 semi final) and this was epitomised by the seminal photograph of 1 Kerry man on the ground surrounded by no less than 8 Tyrone players. There is no doubt that Kerry – the great team of the last decade – were definitely scuppered by Tyrone on more than one occasion and while the Kingdom would fear no team, they certainly respected and were flummoxed more than once by Mickey Harte and his men.
But ‘puke football’ was always sensationalism by Pat, and I doubt if a ‘puke’ football team could have given us players like Conor Gormley, Peter Canavan, Philly Jordan, Owen Mulligan, Stephen O’Neill, Sean Cavanagh, Cormac McAnallen (all too briefly) and many others.
Their story was dramatic, with liberal dashings of unbelievable tragedy thrown in for good measure. We watched from afar the sheer awfulness of the losses of Paul McGirr, Cormac McAnallen and of course the most recent bombshell with the death of Mickey’s daughter Michaela. Most teams would have crumbled with the pain of any one of those events, but this team, led by their inspirational manager, were able to become a living tribute to their missing friends and to mark their memories by their deeds on the field. Someone remarked that Tyrone were carried off on their shields last night, a reference to the famous Spartan battle cry, and I’m sure Paul, Cormac and Michaela were looking down with pride as the old soldiers spilled their sweat yet again in a huge effort. What about it if they lost? We all lose eventually, and there is no shame losing to a better team. When great teams lose they usually lose badly. All you can do is make sure you go down swinging, and the way they kept going to the end was as expected as it was fitting.
My personal memories of Tyrone began with a visit to Croke Park with my brother back in 2002 to see them lose to Sligo before Mickey Harte arrived on the scene. I remember very little from the game other than Tyrone struggled to compete out the field, and that their inside forward line of Brian McGuigan, Stephen O’Neill and Peter Canavan were absolutely blinding in their movement and pace. They ran aground due to lack of ball, but I remember coming away that day raving about their movement, and I haven’t stopped since. It remains the template for me in terms of how inside forwards should operate.
From then, we were spoiled. Of course their football had its critics, but moments like Conor Gormley’s block in the 2003 final, Peter Canavan’s exquisite finish in the 2005 All Ireland Final, the raw emotion as Cormac McAnallen’s name was invoked in the presentation afterwards, the swarm of White and Red down on the field as I looked down from the Hogan Stand, the resilience in 2008 to again beat a great Kerry side in the final, Kevin Hughes’ performance that day, Sean Cavanagh’s driving runs and great goals, Ryan McMenamin being a nuisance to everyone, Owen Mulligan’s goal of the decade against Dublin, Stephen O’Neill’s arcing, graceful point scoring, Brian McGuigan’s playmaking and skill and what probably defined this Tyrone team more than anyone, Brian Dooher’s mix of skill and sheer lung busting work which redefined the position of wing half forward. Another aspect of this team which lives in my mind is the grace and humility which characterised Mickey Harte in all of his public, and not so public, appearances. A great man who led a great team.
Kerry, Armagh and Tyrone were undoubtedly the 3 super powers of the last decade, and Kerry and Tyrone were numbers 1 and 2 in my mind. Armagh have drifted away in the past couple of years, and it looks like Tyrone may be heading for a period of rebuilding, although it’s a good bet that their foundations are solid and the time may be short before we see them back in Croke Park on All Ireland day. No matter how that turns out, there is no doubt, in my opinion anyway, that this Tyrone team has been one of the most influential teams of all time in terms of their impact on the game, this team has given us some of the best moments and players ever to grace Croke Park, and that this team deserves its place in the annals of our games history.
Of course you can never write anybody off, especially a team like this, but it was hard to escape the feeling that we were watching the end of an era last night. If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll be embarrassed reading this in the future but, if we were, then thanks Mickey Harte, and thanks to all your players. You’ve given us talking points, memories, great games and you’ve given a generation of Tyrone kids a whole host of heroes to emulate.
Comhghairdeas agus go raibh maith agaibh.
Posted on www.shane-sportsramblings.blogspot.com on 7 August 2011