Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

Backdoor system gave us a real kick to up our game

And now Tyrone and Armagh can profit from second chance like we did in 2005

By Peter Canavan

It has been 10 years since my last season and the landmarks aren't long in rolling around. Two years ago, Owen Mulligan and I organised a reunion of the All-Ireland winning 2003 team - just a bit of golf and an overnight stay with our wives and girlfriends.

Now that Brian Dooher and Chris Lawn are looking after the 2005 reunion, they have imposed a 'no wives or girlfriends' policy. Clearly, they didn't abandon their courage when they left the playing field!

This weekend we have a few qualifiers to look forward to and when I think of the backdoor system, I thank God it was introduced.

I recall Tyrone being beaten in the Ulster Championship final of 2005 by Armagh. Lawn and I were able to remind the rest of the panel how sore it was to have to wait 12 months to right a wrong; in our case, red cards for Stephen O'Neill and myself, which were later rescinded.

My first four years of Championship football brought four defeats to Armagh and two to Derry. A year's training for one day, you lose, and then it's all over for another year.

While including Patrick McBrearty in my list of 10 most influential players in the country, I mentioned that by 21 he has played a great amount of Championship football.

Before this season, McBrearty's first four seasons brought 24 Championship matches. That's a lifetime of football.

In 2001 we had won Ulster and had beaten Derry in the provincial semi-final. However, they blindsided us in the All-Ireland quarter-final. We soon learned not to rub anyone's nose in it. I remember thinking at the time that it wasn't right, it wasn't fair.

But I also knew that we could make it work for us. In 2005, the exact same thing happened with Armagh and us. After beating Down and then Cavan in the Ulster semi-final replay, we had the Orchard County in Croke Park for the final.

They beat us in the final replay and we went away to lick our wounds. We had to beat Monaghan and then it came down to Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

In terms of atmosphere and noise, those two games were by far the most exhilarating we played in Croke Park. The famous stadium was packed to the rafters. Okay, you play in an All-Ireland final and it is packed, but you must remember that a large percentage of those are neutral.

The drawn game featured Mulligan's wonder goal. He had been struggling in the Championship for us.

In conversation with Mickey Harte just prior to my introduction that day, Mugsy was on the verge of being taken off the field.

The decision to keep him on not only turned his season, but also Tyrone's.

He scored the goal of the year and was man of the match in the replay and in the All-Ireland final against Kerry.

Your season can turn on small things, and that was one of them that year.

We got a chance of revenge in the All-Ireland semi-final against Armagh with the heartbreak of losing the Ulster final still fresh.

After any victory, the winning team are inevitably feeling good about themselves.

When players and supporters reflect on a Championship win, it's amazing how they only seem to recall the positive aspects they displayed. That's totally natural.

Whatever team you are involved in, you win a match or a final, you will be going for a few pints that night and saying, "What about that catch, what about that block?"

The reverse of this, when you lose a match by the narrowest of margins, you put your mistakes under a microscope. You are more inclined to examine your performance.

That leaves you far more driven going into the next game. That was the advantage Tyrone had and whenever it came to the semi-final, we had learned and progressed. And most importantly, we had the motivation.

It makes you train harder, makes you focus the mind and prepare the body. We knew it wouldn't take much to tip the scales and every bit of training and conditioning could make the difference.

In the end, our great rivalry with Armagh came down to one free kick that was going to make or break our season.

I wasn't going to hit it because Mugsy had been freetaker that day. I was on my hands and knees taking a breather when Sean Cavanagh and Brian McGuigan came over to me, insisting, "You have to hit this."

I remind Mulligan from time to time of the lack of confidence his team-mates had in him when it came to the crunch. People often ask about our exchange prior to the most important kick of the year. What was so funny?

We knew how important it was, it didn't require much discussion.

I asked, "Do you want to hit it?" He replied a couple of times, "I don't mind!" He didn't do me any favours!

If he had said, "I am hitting this," then I think I would have let him and at least I would have had an answer.

For my part, I believe he would have put it over the bar as well, but I felt I had to take the responsibility and show the necessary leadership.

As for the here and now, both Tyrone and Armagh have good reason to appreciate the backdoor system.

Tyrone still have players who have a lot of learning to do but they are capable. We witnessed against Donegal in Ballybofey that they are able to put it up to bigger teams

They dominated that game in terms of possession, shots on goal and goal chances. You would have settled for those stats at the start of the game.

You have a lot of younger lads there who haven't experienced that much Championship football into August. It's vital for the development of the team that they get a good run at it and I would expect that to get under way with a win over Limerick.

As for Armagh, I don't think they are as poor as they showed against Donegal. For the amount of training already undertaken, I believe there will be a backlash.

Forget about the management, the players will feel they have let themselves down and I expect to see leaders emerge and that will dictate the extent of their Championship campaign.

They just need to scrape past Wicklow and they have a big game to look forward to.

On occasions like this, it's enough to just still be in the hat by the end of the day's play.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph