Next weekend Tyrone will be playing in the All-Ireland Final and I’ll be supporting them.
I think all Ulster Gaels should, be but they won’t. There are many who will use a romantic excuse to cheer for Mayo. I can see through them and so too will Tyrone people. Mayo are worthy of the Sam Maguire, but since the famous ‘curse’ of 1951, they have always fallen short. In recent years they have stumbled at the final hurdle so many times it’s heart-breaking.
Some begrudging fans in neighbouring counties accuse Tyrone of turning an outbreak of Covid-19 to their advantage. Many argued they should have been forced to play favourites Kerry in the semi-final three weeks ago, but Tyrone stood firm and in a cool game of brinkmanship forced the GAA to delay the game.
When it was finally played last weekend, Tyrone were superb and pipped the Munster champions by a point. It was a masterclass in preparation. The northerners free from the virus arrived as rank outsiders and left as strong winners.
The team on the field showed the traits we have long associated with manager Brian Dooher. As a player, Brian was always in the right place doing the right thing. Carved from stone and steel, he was pivotal in Tyrone winning three All-Irelands — and for two of those he was the captain. His gritty determination to win possession of the ball and his ability to both pass and takes scores was the difference in so many games.
He seems to have instilled those qualities in the current team. I have no doubt the excellent joint manager Feargal Logan has helped to make this happen.
From the moment the RTÉ coverage started last Saturday, the legendary Kerry star and pundit Pat Spillane was accusing Tyrone of working the system. Social media was buzzing with criticism of “fly Tyrone” and “those bunch of bluffers”. The vitriol wasn’t only coming from Kerry fans. Anyone jealous of that never-ending supply of Tyrone talent was having a pop and that included more than a few Ulster people.
Those who were critical had overlooked a very important fact: Brian Dooher doesn’t do things on the fly. He doesn’t surround himself with bluffers. His reputation off the field has been honed in the same way as he created it on the field.
As I said earlier, he does the right thing at the right time. He proved that in 2011, three years after he won his third All-Ireland medal. When this country needed direction and hope after the callous murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr, it was Brian Dooher, along with former manager Mickey Harte, carrying the constable’s coffin that made the GAA world feel proud.
The GAA in Tyrone has been there as a support for so many people in the community. The organisation has had to cope with the tragic loss of young stars Cormac McAnallen and Paul McGirr. The horrific honeymoon murder of Michaela McAreavey, Mickey Harte’s daughter, again saw the association reaching out those arms of comfort. The leadership shown by Brian, Mickey and the Tyrone players at Constable Kerr’s funeral emphasised the quality that exists in the county.
It’s that quality which can make the difference in the heat of battle in Croke Park. Mayo will arrive inspired by the immense achievement of beating champions Dublin, but they will have doubts — Mayo always have doubts.
That’s no surprise as they will be carrying the weight of a superstitious curse handed down by an angry priest the last time they won the title. Apparently, on the way home with the Sam Maguire, the 1951 team bus passed a funeral and the players didn’t show the proper respect. The priest predicted Mayo would never win the All-Ireland again until all the team members had died. To this day, Mayo have failed.
Tyrone fans will be delighted to know that two of the ’51 team are happily still with us. As for the Tyrone players, they won’t give such nonsense a second thought. Dooher wouldn’t allow it.
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