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Noisy neighbours are set to renew their fierce rivalry

By Declan Bogue

A year on, Brian McIver laughs about it. At the time, he was tangled up in rage.

Derry had almost seen out the game a point up against Tyrone, in a contest played in horrific wind and rain. A late free rescued the Red Hands -but the call should have gone the other way.

"A home-town decision," fumed then Derry manager McIver afterwards.

Now the rivals are gearing up to face each other again tonight in Division 2 of the Allianz League (7pm).

Mercifully, McIver is safe from referees - and them from him - in his new role as director of under-age football in Derry. But he said: "On a very personal level, if I wasn't caught up in the drama, I wouldn't be involved!"

Growing up as an Ardboe man, there are few better placed to observe the traditions along the Tyrone-Derry border. Long before club players and fixture scheduling became an afterthought, footballers would get their kicks during sports days and carnival weekends. A big one was the Moneyglass Carnival.

"It got to the stage that I almost felt sorry for any of the other teams involved in it, because Moneyglass invariably every year wanted an Ardboe-Moortown final," he recalled.

"If you got an Ardboe-Moortown final on a Sunday evening, you had Antrim people, Derry people, Tyrone people, everybody at it. And believe me, it was played like a Championship game."

Aside from that, you had 'Works' tournaments where cement plants would play furniture factories with nothing really at stake, only the passing of an evening and a display of manhood.

McIver remembers those midweek battles fondly. He said: "By and large, they could end up like Ulster select teams, All-Stars everywhere. At that time you would have had Colm McAlarney, Gerry McElhinney, Gerry McCarville. They used to be absolutely fantastic games."

Rivalries have been passed down through the generations. When the Mulligan clan of Cookstown attended school, it was across the county boundary in St Malachy's of Drumullan.

Owen Mulligan, the three-time All-Ireland winner and All-Star, along with his cousins Barry and Stephen, would split up from the Derry boys to play for 'Tyrone' in the lunchtime kickabouts. At the weekends, each of their families would convene on a Sunday and play for the 'Mulligan Cup'.

Few players need to win a derby like those hard on the border.

Mulligan revealed: "My mother is from Maghera in Derry so there was always added spice when we played them."

After a league game in Omagh in 2009, he ended up in a nightclub in Cookstown, enjoying a few drinks with the Bradley brothers. Tyrone might have won 0-14 to 0-11, but 'Mugsy' missed a penalty. Enough for the Glenullin boys to get their teeth into when it came to the slagging.

He explained: "There are no friends on the pitch, and I am sure it will be the same on Saturday night, there will be no friends when you cross the white line.

"But there is that much mutual respect for each other once you get off the pitch. Even though there is a rivalry, there is a respect too."

This year, Derry and Tyrone's games are being played out with increasing desperation, with the most important to date staged tonight under the Healy Park lights.

There is a tendency to almost shy away or express disapproval over the inevitable unsavoury incidents. But conflict never goes out of fashion when it comes to sport, McIver tells us.

He said: "That local rivalry and tension, the tightness that you get out of local derbies is still in existence. I can remember a spell when Ardboe had a great side. But Moortown would be guaranteed to give them their most difficult game of the season.

"Whenever Moortown were county champions and a great side for a few seasons in the 90s, it was the one day that Ardboe couldn't wait to get playing them.

"I remember being involved in an Ardboe Under-21 side that was playing a Moortown team that had six or seven seniors the season before and had won a county title.

"We played them at Derrylaughan on a wet Wednesday evening and again, the place stuffed, Ardboe boys playing out of their skin and scraping a victory. That's just the nature of the derbies.

"There is the odd time that things flare up, but crowds love the tension of it, the fact that you are playing close neighbours, and particularly at club level you could have cousins playing cousins.

"Love for your cousin disappears during a local derby."

The attraction of Tyrone-Derry brought Mulligan over to Armagh for January's Dr McKenna Cup final, although he left to beat the traffic, missing extra-time. Still, he caught enough of the "new hunger, new togetherness" of Derry.

He said: "Both will get stuck in. I think Tyrone were lucky that night. If Derry were maybe more experienced to hold onto a lead, they would probably have seen it out."

He will take his seat for the match tonight and - lesson learned - will stay until the final whistle.

He added: "You don't miss Derry-Tyrone games. They are like Celtic-Rangers around our way. You always want to beat Derry, no matter if it is marbles, bingo or whatever."

Sitting close by will be McIver. "Guaranteed!" he confirmed.

"You get a buzz at those games that you don't get anywhere else."

Escapism. Isn't that what we all want from sport?

Belfast Telegraph


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