Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Dublin sure of hot reception against Tyrone

Dublin and Tyrone players came to blows in 2008
Dublin and Tyrone players came to blows in 2008

Even when getting off the team bus in Omagh, the Dublin team were agitated on that foundered Sunday, early February 2006.

Games against Tyrone had that effect, handed down historically through the jersey.

There was the hop-ball of wide-eyed innocents in 1984 when Tyrone went to warm-up in front of Hill 16 prior to the All-Ireland semi-final. Then, the Charlie Redmond incident when he did not leave the field after a second booking in the 1995 All-Ireland final. Neither county needed encouragement to stockpile petty resentments.

But 2006 was on another level.

It took a replay for Tyrone to eventually get past Dublin in the previous year's All-Ireland quarter-final and the Dubs felt they were bullied once again. So they decided to take a stand.

The first thing they did was to refuse to grant the reigning All-Ireland champions the traditional guard of honour at their first home league game. Nasty.

There had been a number of disturbing off-the-ball incidents and a couple of first half brawls, but it all blew up midway through the second half.

"I was marking Alan Brogan and he caught me with a late tackle," recalls then Tyrone centre-back, Ciaran Gourley.

"When you are in the spirit of a game – if I can put it like that – your emotions are running high and sometimes you can lose the run of yourself. But they were very fired up for that game."

Dublin midfielder Ciaran Whelan attempted to haul Gourley's prostrate body off the ground. Alan Brogan was sent off before getting involved in verbals with Tyrone's doctor, Seamus Cassidy.

A punch-up right in front of the stand was the end result.

TG4 were screening the game and recorded viewing figures of 108,000, four times their average. From that point, a period of reflection began on the direction the game was going in.

That period of football does not compare to now. There will always be isolated incidents, but the game is a much cleaner sport now.

Brian McGuigan was on the subs' bench and shortly after the third melee he was sent on, having recently returned from backpacking around Australia.

McGuigan reveals the context of the game: "There were people talking about how Dublin weren't able to win away from Croke Park and they might have wanted to set their stall out for the year.

"They were going to take no s*** no matter where they went to. Maybe there was a bit of that there."

But the reels of on-pitch savagery doesn't quite capture the unfamiliar, uncomfortable rawness of the atmosphere.

Referee Paddy Russell wrote extensively about the day when he handed out four red cards and 14 yellows, with five further players retrospectively suspended.

On an attached note he handed in along with his referee's report, he had written that it was, 'The most disappointing and upsetting day of all my years refereeing.'

Russell had a policy of always sleeping in his own bed the night before matches.

The last time he had slept in a hotel prior to a game was the night before the 1995 All-Ireland final between the same teams, and he took serious flak over mistakes committed the following day.

He reasoned that he made an exception for this game. It was over 200 mile of a round trip and the roads were unpredictable, so he stayed in The Westenra Hotel, owned of course by former Monaghan manager Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney.

Banty's brother, the referee Pat, was close to Russell and gave him directions from the hotel.

Pat took up the story: "The only thing I forgot to organise for Paddy that weekend was the police escort out of Omagh."

What relevance has any of this? Well, tomorrow the two teams meet again in Healy Park, almost mirror opposites of each other back then.

Now, it is Dublin as All-Ireland champions, two Sams in three years, just like Tyrone had back then.

Tyrone are no longer out in front, more realistically at the head of the chasing pack, looking to catch the front-runners.

The current panel stand accused of not having the same bite and appetite for the more unsavoury stuff that it takes to win titles.

It's a loose expression, but there is a feeling abroad that they could do with their own 'Battle of Omagh' as a Rosa Parks moment, when they refuse to be cowed by the present order of things.

The relationship shifted in 2010 when Dublin defeated Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The year after, they pulverised the last vestiges of the 2003 team at the same stage. That game in particular sent the clear message that Tyrone had to begin again with a new team. They have shown their promise in flashes, but collapses such as Ballybofey last summer, or Killarney last month, still leaves question marks over the new Tyrone.

However, there is optimism in the county.

"I give Tyrone a lot of hope on Sunday," says McGuigan.

"Tyrone's young players are trying to prove themselves. They have come back well from the Kerry defeat.

"You take the Kerry match and the second half, it was unbelievable for a team of Mickey Harte's to go down like that.

"I think a scuffle 10 or 15 minutes into the second half would have woken them up and got them going.

"But if they did not qualify for the league semis after this campaign, it would be an injustice to them because they have been playing well barring that Kerry game."

And if the need to assert themselves, just like Dublin did in '06 should arise, Ciaran Gourley has his own views.

"What I would expect from any player is for them to go out there and stand up for themselves.

"I would never say that would be something you want to see, but if it does, you want to see them stand up and learn from the experience, for the summer ahead."

Game on.

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