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Brian calls time on Tyrone

By John Campbell

For some weeks now it has been a question of 'when' and not 'if'. Yet as inspirational Tyrone skipper Brian Dooher formally confirmed yesterday that he was standing down from inter-county football a pall of gloom descended upon the O'Neill county.

Dooher's severance of his link with the Red Hands is not so much viewed as the curtain coming down on one player's career as the end of the most memorable era in Tyrone's history.

Dooher, regarded as one of the hardest-working players on and off the park in terms of putting his county before himself, raised the bar for his colleagues by his unstinting efforts to thrust Tyrone up among football's superpowers.

His success in achieving this through splendid example came at a price - he often battled uncomplainingly against a succession of injuries - but in his eyes the greater good of the county was served and that's all that mattered.

He led Tyrone to All-Ireland glory in 2005 and 2008 and had returned to action in the Ulster championship this year initially as a substitute in the hope of perhaps driving the side to the ultimate glory yet again.

But the passage of time - he had by then celebrated his 35th birthday - and the emergence of teams whose talents complemented their lofty ambitions meant that Dooher and Tyrone were destined for disappointment, their defeat against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final proving a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

Having shared in Tyrone's first All-Ireland triumph in 2003 when the legendary Peter Canavan was captain, Dooher subsequently went on to leave an indelible imprint on the side.

His commitment was legendary, his dedication at times bordered on the superhuman given that injury was a relatively constant companion.

But pride in the jersey, an ongoing fervent belief in the ability of his colleagues and a rampant desire to provide success for what is one of the most loyal and enthusiastic fan-bases in the country were the spurs that drove Dooher onto a special pedestal.

He made his Tyrone debut against Kildare in 1995 - the year in which Dublin last won the Sam Maguire Cup, incidentally - and helped the Red Hands to the Ulster title the following year.

He was involved in a high-profile incident with Meath's Martin O'Connell that left him requiring staples in his head in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final which Tyrone lost.

Tyrone did not regain the provincial honour until 2001 and two years later Dooher played a major role when Tyrone dramatically entered the spotlight nationwide claiming both the National League and All-Ireland crowns.

Following Cormac McAnallen's tragic death in 2004, Dooher was handed the Tyrone captaincy and paid an emotional tribute to the Eglish clubman when receiving the Sam Maguire Cup after the Red Hands' second All-Ireland triumph in 2005.

After missing most of the 2006 campaign with a shattered kneecap, Dooher returned the following year to help Tyrone to another Ulster title, scoring 0-5 in the semi-final win over Donegal.

In 2008, he joined an elite group of players to lift the Sam Maguire Cup twice when Tyrone stormed through the backdoor to beat Kerry in the final. He also received his third All-Star that year.

The busy half-forward collected two more Ulster medals in 2009 and 2010, but with injuries taking their toll, was confined to the role of impact sub in this year's championship campaign.

A busy veterinary surgeon, Dooher often made light of the unsociable hours that he was forced to work while at the same time juggling training and match commitments.

He has served the Clan na Gael club, which has its headquarters in north Tyrone, well and is likely to continue to play at club level.

But his contribution to Tyrone's successes since 2003 has been immense.

His colossal contribution on the pitch - he was renowned for winning break ball and launching counter-attacks, far from the easiest task in gaelic football's repertoire - and his strident motivational rhetoric in the dressing-room and at team meetings invariably elicited a positive, indeed overwhelming response from the players under his command.

Dynamic, driven, dashing - he was all of these and more. But most of all he played for the love of the game, his team and his county.

He has left those who played alongside him and the thousands of fans who followed Tyrone so avidly of late with a treasure trove of memories that they will cherish for a long, long time to come.

Belfast Telegraph

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