Thursday 22 February 2018

2003: Tyrone emerge as game's new powerhouse

Tyrone 0-12
Armagh 0-9

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

FOOTBALL FINAL , an All-Ireland final with a three-way history wrap as the first involving two Ulster teams, Armagh's first time to attempt the two-in-a-row and Tyrone's bid to win the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time.

Tyrone arrived in Croke Park through the front door, while Armagh - then the reigning champions - had to avail of the back door entrance after suffering a shock defeat in an Ulster first-round tie to a Monaghan team managed by former Meath stalwart Colm Coyle.

Given the great rivalry that exists between Armagh and Tyrone, it was always going to be a tense, tight game where tiny margins would decide so much between the neighbours.

That's exactly how it turned out, with Tyrone finally making the breakthrough with what was the lowest winning score in an All-Ireland final since Cork did the double in 1990 when the footballers followed up the hurlers' Liam MacCarthy success by recording a 0-11 to 0-9 final win over Meath.

Tyrone, who had suffocated Kerry in the semi-final, led by four points after 16 minutes and again at half-time, and while Armagh deployed all their trademark battling qualities to cut the deficit to two points, they just couldn't wipe it out altogether.

Mind you, Joe Kernan's troops came mighty close late on when Steven McDonnell's goal-bound drive was brilliantly blocked by the flying dive of Conor Gormley in what proved to be Armagh's last big chance.

A major controversy erupted over the second-half dismissal of Armagh's Diarmuid Marsden. He appeared to be merely protecting himself as a Tyrone player lunged in his direction, but was sent off by referee Brian White.

That left Armagh without one of their sharpest attackers at a time when they badly needed him, a loss which probably had a significant bearing on the game.

Marsden later appealed the decision and had the red card rescinded by Central Council, but while it removed the blemish on his record, it did nothing to assuage the feeling in Armagh that they had been the victims of a grave injustice which may have cost them the game.

That was of no concern to Tyrone as they enjoyed a historic breakthrough, the pursuit of which took on real status when they beat Kerry by seven points in the All-Ireland semi-final. It identified Tyrone as a squad with immense potential and while Armagh had beaten them in an Ulster championship replay the year before, the Red Hands were a more formidable force in 2003 - even if they did haveto recover from a bad start to draw the Ulster final against Down.

It was Mickey Harte's first season as manager and he would go on to preside over further All-Ireland wins in 2005 and 2008.

Tyrone -- J Devine; C Gourley, C McAnallen, R McMenamin; C Gormley, G Devlin, P Jordan; K Hughes, S Cavanagh; B Dooher, B McGuigan, G Cavlan; E McGinley, P Canavan, O Mulligan. Subs: S O'Neill for McGuigan, McGuigan for Canavan, C Holmes for Gourley, Canavan for Cavlan, C Lawn for Gormley.

Armagh -- P Hearty; F Bellew, E McNulty, A Mallon; A O'Rourke, K McGeeney, A McCann; P Loughran, P McGrane; R Clarke, J McEntee, O McConville; S McDonnell, D Marsden, T McEntee. Subs: P McKeever for Marsden, K Hughes for Mallon, Marsden for Clarke, B O'Hagan for J McEntee.

Ref -- B White (Wexford).

Attendance: 79,391

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