Kerry got out of jail in 1986 as ODwyer admitted

Pic: Sportsfile.
Pic: Sportsfile.

LISTENING to Micheál Ó Muircheartaighs broadcast from Omagh last Sunday week on radio where Tyrone beat Armagh in Round 5 of the Allianz National League, one could not mistake the excitement in his voice.

The All-Ireland champions were going down to their first competitive defeat since last April and judging by the sound effects coming over the airwaves the home supporters were in full voice.

Rivalry between these two neighbouring counties separated by the river Blackwater is intense and victory for one over the other is always dearly prized. It doesn’t matter whether the game is Gaelic football or tiddliwinks, Tyrone always want to beat Armagh and vice versa.

There is no such background to a game between Tyrone and Kerry. The counties are located at opposite ends of the country and have only met once in the All-Ireland series.

Nevertheless, Sunday’s sixth round of the league in Killarney is enough to stimulate a lot of interest. Both sides are on six points each and, as reigning League champions, Tyrone must fancy their chances, especially after beating Armagh.

If they want to be taken as serious All-Ireland contenders, this is the place to show what they are made of.

Kerry have also plenty of incentive to give of their best. After two dreadful displays against Cork and Galway (both away), they have got themselves back on the rails again with good wins over Dublin and Donegal. Another win over Tyrone on Sunday in their favourite practice ground would set them up nicely for a possible semi-final slot.

The 1986 All-Ireland final meeting between the sides is still a live talking-point and that is another reason why Tyrone will want to show their paces on Sunday.

They owe their opponents a beating for 16 years and memories will flit back to that memorable day at Croke Park when the teams run out on to the pitch. Kerry won comfortably in the end but only after surviving a monumental scare early in the second half when the Tyrone corner-forward Paudge Quinn scored a goal that put his side six points in front.

It was a game that had everything — a tremendous atmosphere with an estimated 30,000 Tyrone supporters turning Croke Park into a sea of red and white; the underdogs playing out of their skins; the promise for three-quarters of an hour of a Roy of the Rovers result and then, in the end, the title being won by a great side at its greatest.

The facts of the game are easily stated. Tyrone held the hot favourites for 45 minutes before losing their way in the closing quarter. They led at half-time by three points and they had their opponents on the rack after ten minutes of the second half when they went seven points in front, 1-8 to 0-4.

The reasons for Tyrone’s collapse can be easily identified. The loss of John Lynch and Eugene McKenna in the second half; Kevin McCabe’s failure to score a goal from a penalty; the introduction of Timmy O’Dowd for Kerry.

After going seven points up, Art McRory, the Tyrone manager, remembers running on to the pitch to bring Eugene McKenna to midfield. “I sensed that we were about to lose our grip. We needed somebody to steady us down and take the pressure off. McKenna caught one ball, then looked towards the sideline with his arms outstretched. I knew he was ‘gone’. He went back in to full-forward and later limped off to the sideline.”

Kerry began the long haul back facing a seven-point deficit after McCabe hit the penalty over the bar — and they did it in style. Who better to show the way than those two great superstars of ‘the Golden Years’, Pat Spillane and Mikey Sheehy who responded with a goal apiece.

One of the goals might not have happened had referee Jim Dennigan of Cork spotted a blatant foul on Plunkett Donaghy out around the middle of the field. He didn’t and Ger Power took full advantage, feeding the ball through to Sheehy who goaled.

After that, Tyrone fell apart and were outclassed in the closing minutes although the final score of 2-15 to 1-10 did them scant justice.

Whenever questioned on the penalty incident and what thoughts were running through his mind at that very moment as Kevin McCabe began his run up to take the most vital kick of his life, Mick O’Dwyer has always been very forthcoming.

More than once he has said: “If Tyrone goaled from the penalty and we went nine points behind, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have been beaten.”

McCabe, who scored from a penalty in the semi-final against Galway with a rocket of a shot to the roof of the net, seemed undecided as to what to do and lacked the conviction to go for the jugular.

Kerry got out of jail that day and O’Dwyer has never been slow in admitting that fact. When the penalty was awarded for a foul on McKenna inside the square he held his head in his hands and didn’t look up until after the ball had gone over the bar. It was a costly miss that almost certainly cost Tyrone a first All-Ireland title.

Tyrone were back at Croke Park again in 1995 still chasing the rainbow’s end but once again defeat in an All-Ireland final would be their lot and again under the most heartbreaking of circumstances.

A one-point defeat by Dublin represented the worst of all possible endings especially as Peter Canavan was adjudged to have picked the ball off the ground in the closing minutes before passing it off to Sean McLaughlin who scored what should have been the equaliser.

Referee Paddy Russell gave a free out when nine out of ten referees would have allowed the score to stand.

Tyrone have been one of the most under-achieving teams in football ever since. Despite winning All-Ireland minor and Under-21 honours under the current senior manager, Mickey Harte, and even with a stream of good young players coming through, the elusive senior All-Ireland title keeps running away from them.

Last year they lost to Armagh in a replay in the Ulster championship and flopped most inexplicably against Sligo in the Qualifiers at Croke Park after a good first half when they looked to be comfortably in control at half-time.

The subsequent banishment of joint managers Art McRory and Eugene McKenna left the county in turmoil but the elevation of Mickey Harte was a good appointment on the basis of his achievements at underage competitions. He has had many of the present senior squad under his command previously and knows what they are capable of.

Two of these players are Brian and Frank McGuigan, sons of the legendary Frank McGuigan (senior) who holds the astonishing record of having kicked 11 points from play in the 1984 Ulster final against Armagh.

His view on the present side is that ‘Tyrone have a lot of good young players but they are lacking a little in size’. His belief is that Armagh are the team to beat again this year.

It promises to be a keenly-fought struggle and if Kerry have any serious ambitions about winning the League or even qualifying for the knockout stages they will want to build on recent successes against Dublin and Donegal.


P.S. The teams that contested the 1986 All-Ireland final were:

KERRY: Charlie Nelligan (goal); Páidí Ó Sé, Sean Walsh, Mick Spillane; Tommy Doyle (capt.), Tom Spillane, Ger Lynch; Jack O’Shea, Ambrose O’Donovan; Willie Maher, Ogie Moran, Pat Spillane; Mikey Sheehy, Eoin Liston, Ger Power.

SUB: Timmy O’Dowd.

TYRONE: Aidan Skelton (goal); Joey Mallon, Kieran McGarvey, John Lynch; Kevin McCabe, Noel McGinn, Paddy Ball; Plunkett Donaghy, Harry McClure; Mickey McClure, Eugene McKenna, Sean McNally; Mickey Mallon, Damien O’Hagan, Paudge Quinn.

REFEREE: Jim Dennigan (Cork).