Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 18 November 2017

Dublin and Tyrone lock horns again in rivalry that brings out the worst in both

Dublin's Tomas Quinn is crowded out by Conor Gormley, Justin McMahon, Ryan McMenamin, and Ciaran Gourley during the last Championship meeting.
between the teams in 2008
Dublin's Tomas Quinn is crowded out by Conor Gormley, Justin McMahon, Ryan McMenamin, and Ciaran Gourley during the last Championship meeting. between the teams in 2008

They've brought the best out of each other. And they have certainly brought the worst out of each other.

For Tyrone and Dublin the last decade has thrown up a cornucopia of different standards -- much good, some bad and plenty of ugly.

The good has its source in the quality of the two All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2005, a vintage year for football, and the free-flowing nature of their 2009 Croke Park league clash to celebrate 125 years of the GAA -- when experimental playing rules gave a glimpse of the future that was ultimately rejected by Congress just over two months later.

The bad has been almost the exclusive domain of Dublin, particularly their 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final collapse. Tyrone, though, will reflect on the last meeting between the sides in April, when Dublin put them to the sword by six points and condemned them to Division 2 league football in 2011.

The ugly? That has nearly always simmered between these rivals -- in Parnell Park, in Omagh and Croke Park.

It has resulted in flashpoints between managers and rival players, substitutes and local stewards, red and yellow cards aplenty and a match that one of the most experienced referees in the game came close to calling off.

On Saturday they're back to do it all again, their 10th meeting in both league and championship since Mickey Harte assumed control of Tyrone in 2003.

It's been a head-to-head to match any other in recent times. While Tyrone have had Armagh up north and Dublin will always have Meath and Kerry, together the nouveau rivalry of the pair has evolved into probably the most compelling of the last decade, providing more fascination than the duopoly in the south west.

Why else would the GAA choose them to launch their 125 celebrations and to celebrate the switching on of the floodlights before 80,000 in Croke Park?

Why else would Pat Gilroy namecheck Tyrone more than any other team, in his desire to perfect a new modus operandi for Dublin's style of play?

Why else would the 'Blue Book', the clandestine bible complete with a seven point creed sworn upon by Dublin squad members in 2008, describe Omagh 2006 as a "day we crossed the line together as a Dublin squad hasn't done in years".

Why else would Harte afford himself a wry smile when news of the quarter-final pairings filtered through?


It's difficult to gauge where the genesis of this new rivalry has stemmed from. The first league match of 2004 in Parnell Park may be a starting point.

Tommy Lyons was under pressure as Dublin manager after a turbulent 2003, but when Tyrone came to the capital as All-Ireland champions the following year, the locals were determined to lay down markers.

It cut both ways. Dublin's Senan Connell was stretchered off after only four minutes after sustaining a blow, 10 players were yellow-carded, including Stephen O'Neill twice, which earned him a red. Dublin won narrowly, 0-9 to 0-8, and Lyons was satisfied his team had turned a corner.

Twelve months later, under the direction of Paul Caffrey, Dublin made the return trip to Omagh and met with a hostile reception.

Warm-up protocols weren't properly observed. Local stewards had angry words with Dublin substitutes, who were later moved out of the stands at the request of Dublin management. Tyrone won easily and later that summer, in a much more benign atmosphere, rebooted their season with a quarter-final replay win, providing two of the best games of the 2005 championship.

From Ciaran Whelan's majestic dominance for much of the first day, to Owen Mulligan's wonder goal and Harte's sideline genius -- it had it all.

Dublin took it on the chin, but stored it in the memory. When the league resumed, their trip to Omagh took on a new meaning.

What followed was the low point of their rivalry with four players red-carded and another five facing charges of disrepute that ultimately collapsed because of procedural difficulties.

It was best encapsulated in the words of the referee that day, Paddy Russell, in his autobiography 'Final Whistle'.

"The fall-out left me on the brink of retirement. It was the most disappointing and upsetting day of my years refereeing. It wasn't just the players who were on edge. The crowd also seemed geared up and there was a worryingly bad atmosphere. The stewards were local and there was no police presence. That was frightening," recalled Russell.

Twelve months later, as the lights went on in Croke Park, Dublin looked to have done enough, but a late rally from Tyrone -- as the red-carded Ryan McMenamin and Caffrey traded angry words on the sideline over a challenge on Jason Sherlock -- proved enough.

Two years ago Tyrone came into the corresponding quarter-final under a cloud, as they struggled through the qualifiers.

Dublin, on the other hand, looked right at the peak of their powers after dismantling Wexford in the Leinster final. But within 25 minutes the dream was over for Dublin for another year, the first of three crushing Croke Park defeats in successive years bringing an end to Caffrey's reign. Harte had trumped them once again with another redraft.

Recent leagues provided entertaining football and the edge of the mid 2000s seems to have abated for both teams.

For the first time Tyrone come to Croke Park to meet Dublin in an All-Ireland quarter-final as Ulster champions, Dublin come through the back door.

It's a role reversal that may not mean a result reversal, however.

Irish Independent

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