Down set standard but Tyrone take it to new level
It was Down who blazed an impressive trail for Ulster when they landed three All Ireland Football titles in the 1960s, thus affording the province new-found status within the GAA.
In bringing the Sam Maguire Cup across the border for the first time in 1960, Down achieved a significant milestone but when they retained it in 1961 and then went on to replicate the feat in 1968, they not only thrust themselves into a position of sporting eminence but effectively threw down the gauntlet to other sides from the province.
Since then, Derry, Donegal and Armagh – and indeed Down themselves – have ensured that the province has spasmodically dined at the top table.
But yesterday, Tyrone undisputedly earned for themselves the label of a great side as opposed to merely a good team by landing their third All Ireland title in just six years.
In the process, their stunning 1-15 to 0-14 victory over Kerry at Croke Park rendered onto the Kingdom the three in a row they most certainly did not want.
For this was Kerry’s third reversal at the hands of Tyrone since 2003 – and that, in their view, is catastrophic.
They may have had custody of the Sam Maguire Cup for the past two years under the baton of Pat O’Shea yet, given Kerry’s voracious appetite for glory and their unparalleled tradition, the Killarney man may now find himself actually labelled a failure!
And as Kerry strive to come to terms with another shattering blow to their morale, Tyrone stride imperiously to a new peak.
Their togetherness, spirit and towering technique simply deflated their opponents in the end by which time Brian Dooher was ready to take his place in the annals of the sport as the only skipper to lead a side from north of the border to two All Ireland triumphs.
And by then, too, Sean Cavanagh had placed one hand on the Footballer of the Year trophy — if there is any justice, that is – and Mickey Harte had assured himself of a slot right up alongside such legendary managers as Sean Boylan and Mick O’Dwyer.
If Tyrone lived dangerously in the first-half yesterday, they demonstrated such a level of positivity and confidence in the second-half that Kerry’s reputation as a county that had already amassed 35 All Ireland crowns was tarnished appreciably.
For Tyrone, this was the sweetest triumph to date, honed out as it was against a backdrop of misfortune and not a little controversy.
Not so long ago elements of the Tyrone support were baying for Harte’s head following the team’s slip-up against Down in the Ulster Championship. Today those same followers are in the vanguard of the clamour to have the Ballygawley master tactician canonised.
If Harte’s stamp was on every element of this latest coup, then the efforts of his players not only did the county proud but helped to discover a new ration of credibility for Ulster football.
And their supreme effort emphasised just what can be achieved through unity of purpose and a sense of self-belief.
In achieving a new level of excellence, Tyrone gave the GAA hierarchy considerable cause for heaving a sigh of relief.
It is an open secret that recent All Ireland finals in both hurling and football have done little to enhance the reputation of the Association in general and its showpiece occasions in particular.
But yesterday’s titanic contest ensured that the natural order was restored.
Except in Kerry, that is.