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Tyrone at fever pitch in run-up to All Ireland final

By Matthew McCreary

A sea of red and white will descend on Co Tyrone this weekend as fans and faithful followers of Gaelic football prepare for another all-Ireland final.

Hair we go, hair we go: Nathan McNamee, Mark Corry and Oran Meenagh from St Colmcille's primary school in Omagh. Above, right: Karen McGonagle from Strabane. Right: Leon Murray (3), from Omagh

Micky Harte’s team – and tens of thousands of fans – will be travelling to Croke Park in Dublin with hopes of a hat-trick as they take on the might of Co Kerry for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final.

This will be the third time the team has made it to the final in six years, and hopes are high that they will lift the Sam Maguire Cup once again.

Those lucky enough to get tickets for the big day will cheer on the Red Hands — who, for superstitious reasons will sport beards — as they take to the pitch against the footballing giants.

Kerry have won the competition a whopping 35 times in its 120 year history, including last year, and they last beat Tyrone in a final in 1986.

But Tyrone will also have the psychological advantage of having beaten Kerry in 2005, following a win against Armagh in 2003.

And Tyrone fans — many of whom have aped their heroes in the beard department — will accept the outcome being a close shave as long as they come home with ‘Sam’.

Danny Murphy, Provincial Director of Ulster GAA, said Sunday would also be a special day for the county’s up-and-coming young players.

“They have the Minor Under-18 team in the All-Ireland Final as well,” he said.

“I think the last time we had that was in 1952 where one county from Ulster had both Senior and Minor teams there on the final day. Tyrone have been particularly successful at the minor level over the years.”

Mr Murphy said a large contingent of local fans were expected to make their way down to Dublin.

“We’re expecting as many as can get tickets to travel down,” he said.

“Croke Park is looking at a maximum attendance of somewhere close to 82,200.

“I would expect that 50% of them will be from Ulster and 30% from Tyrone in one guise or another. For people in Tyrone this is particularly special.

“A lot of the towns and villages have got themselves well bedecked, and no doubt their fans will be well bedecked on Sunday.

“It’s an amazing achievement for the county and if they manage to win the double it will be the first time it has ever been achieved by an Ulster team, and if they don’t the fact that they got both teams to an All-Ireland Final will be something that will always stand as a testament to a great era in Tyrone football.

“I haven’t missed many All-Ireland Finals in over 40 years. I’ll be looking forward to a Tyrone victory.”

This will also be a good weekend for local bars as fans unable to get tickets for the match flock to their locals to watch it on big screens.

John McGirr, owner of Sally’s Bar, Lounge and Nightclub in Omagh, says he will be drafting extra staff in for the big day.

“We’re getting old hands at this, this is our third go now this century,” he said. “It’s a big occasion, there’s big excitement. A lot of people haven’t got tickets so we’ll be showing the match.

“The atmosphere is building up very nicely. The doors will open around 11am and we have a breakfast organised. We also have a banner on the wall outside.”

Bookies across Ireland are also expecting good business, with an unpredictable outcome generating plenty of tight odds, and some very interesting bets.

Leading bookmaker Paddy Power said: “On paper this looks like one of the best All Ireland Finals in the past five years.

“For me the fuzzy-faced men from Tyrone are massive value at 7/4 and that’s exactly where my tenner will be going.”

Paddy Power will also be offering some rather unusual bets on the game, including 100/1 for any Kerry player to slap the notebook out of the referee’s hand and 5/1 for a bearded Tyrone player to score the first point.

\[alexas\]ENDPIECE: Sport, Pages 72-73 & 80

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