Alan Brogan: Tyrone were everything I wanted Dublin to be
Games against Tyrone are the yardstick by which Alan Brogan has measured Dublin's progress in the last 12 years from nearly men to serial All-Ireland winners
Today's game is a massive occasion for both sets of players. It is the type of game that only comes around a few times in a player's career.
For the first time since I retired, I could really feel the pull of Croke Park and championship football last week. For me, playing Tyrone was the pinnacle, it was the ultimate mental and physical test.
The great Tyrone team of the noughties had the edge on us. We failed to beat them three times in the championship before we finally managed a win in 2010. Even more than Kerry, they were the team that drove me to keep coming back. They were a team of champions, everything I wanted the Dublin team to be.
They had great footballers in Conor Gormley, Philip Jordan, Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan, Peter Canavan and Owen Mulligan among others, and always saved their best for the big occasions. And underneath the football was a steely character and unity that made them hard to beat. I rank beating Tyrone in 2010, even though that team was on the wane a little bit, as one of the best days of my career.
Games against Tyrone are woven into the fabric of my Dublin career. Here's a run-down of the more significant ones - all were milestones for one reason or another.
August 13, 2005 - Croke Park
Dublin 1-14 T Quinn 1-7 (0-5f, 0-1 '45'), C Keaney 0-3 (0-1f), A Brogan, J Sherlock 0-2 each.
Tyrone 1-14 S O'Neill 0-6 (0-3f), O Mulligan 1-1 (0-1f), S Cavanagh 0-3, B Dooher, B McGuigan, R Mellon, E McGinley 0-1 each.
Coming off two bad years in 2003 and '04, we felt this was the game to propel us to the next level. A Mossy Quinn goal on the stroke of half-time had us five up. We were purring very nicely. Ciarán Whelan had a grip at midfield, Collie Moran was giving Philly Jordan a hard time, same with Jason Sherlock on Ryan McMenamin. Gavin Devlin picked me up and was taken off at the break.
Maybe we weren't ready for the onslaught that came in the second half, maybe we weren't experienced enough in how to shut out a game like that. Conor Gormley was moved onto me in the second half and in fairness to Conor he shackled me.
The match will be remembered for Owen Mulligan's wonder goal. I rank it in the top two of all time alongside my own dad's goal against Kerry in 1977. But the last two Tyrone scores from Dooher and Stephen O'Neill were something special. In the end, we needed a free by Mossy to force the replay.
All in all, leaving Croke Park that day we were content heading to a replay knowing we could compete with Tyrone in the white heat of championship football. Little did we know what lay ahead.
August 28, 2005 - Croke Park
Tyrone 2-18 (O Mulligan 1-7, S O'Neill 1-3, B Dooher 0-3, S Cavanagh, R Mellon 0-2 each, B McGuigan 0-1)
Dublin 1-14 (C Keaney 0-4, T Quinn 0-3, D Farrell 1-0, A Brogan 0-2, S Ryan, C Moran, B Cullen, J Sherlock, S Connell 0-1 each)
Maybe in the back of our minds we thought we had left a golden opportunity behind us because we never got out of the blocks in the first half of the replay. Down by seven at half-time, we looked done.
Mulligan's goal in the drawn game had kick-started his season and he took us for 1-5 from play in the replay. I picked up an ankle injury which cut my day short and ended the season in disappointing fashion. In fairness, we showed a bit of character at the start of the second half to get it back to three points. The atmosphere was electric during this mini-revival but the Mulligan goal around the 50-minute mark ended the contest.
The game petered out and it ended up being quite an embarrassing defeat. It cut right to the bone of both players and management. What hurt most was we kind of threw in the towel once Mulligan's goal went in. We knew it wasn't good enough and in the off-season we promised each other it wouldn't happen again.
February 5, 2006 - Healy Park (The Battle of Omagh)
Dublin 1-9 (T Quinn 1-7 (1-0 pen, 0-5f, 0-1 '45'), B Cullen, D Henry 0-1 each)
Tyrone 1-6 (S O'Neill 1-2 (1-0 pen, 0-2f), O Mulligan (f), C Holmes, R Mellon, P Donnelly 0-1 each)
Not quite an All-Ireland quarter-final, but our chance came quickly enough to rectify the loss in Croke Park the previous August.
The 'Battle of Omagh' is remembered for the wrong reasons, but for us it was a milestone. We needed to prove to ourselves and lay down a marker that we were not a soft touch and wouldn't roll over again like we did us the quarter-final replay six months earlier.
Going into the game the instruction was nobody was to take a backward step. We felt Tyrone had bullied us a little the previous year. The Dublin guys, including myself, were so psyched up for this league game, more so than any other league game I ever played in, that enthusiasm to prove our physicality to ourselves and Tyrone spilled over, causing a huge brawl which spread to the sideline.
It didn't look pretty but it was more handbags than anything else. I received a red card, one of three I received in my inter-county career and both teams picked up five or six suspensions. The win, considering the circumstances, meant a lot more than any number of red cards or suspensions and we hoped it would propel us as a group to something greater. Ciarán McDonald burst that bubble the following August.
August 16, 2008 - croke park
Tyrone 3-14 (S Cavanagh 1-2 (1f), J McMahon, D Harte 1-1 each, B Dooher, C McCullagh 0-3 each, T McGuigan, C Gormley, B McGuigan, E McGinley 0-1 each)
Dublin 1-8 (C Keaney 1-1, B Brogan 0-3, T Quinn 0-2 (2f), B Cahill, M Vaughan (1f) 0-1 each)
We had to wait three years before we came up against Tyrone in the championship again. This was Pillar's fourth year in charge, I was in the prime of my career and we had cruised through Leinster.
Harsh lessons had been learnt over the previous few years and we felt we were close to making a big breakthrough. The week of the game I had to travel down the country with work and drove back the same afternoon for training. I gave my hamstring a little tweak but presumed all would be OK on the day in Croke Park. Conor Gormley, Tyrone's man-marker was detailed to mark me, I won the first ball that came in but as I turned I felt my hamstring pop. After three minutes my All-Ireland quarter-final was over and Bernard came in for me.
The first half went from bad to worse, we had a couple of really good goal opportunities which we spurned and then Seán Cavanagh got us with a killer goal. He did take about 10 steps in the lead-up but I'm not sure it would have made any difference. Again, we were outfought and outfoxed by a Tyrone team that came from nowhere to win the All-Ireland.
Pillar Caffrey stood down after four years in charge, in a way it was the end of an era. That particular Dublin team had worked tirelessly over the previous four years to try and bridge the gap of getting back to an All-Ireland final. It wasn't to be but they were some of the best times of my Dublin career even if this day didn't end well for us.
July 31, 2010 - Croke Park
Dublin 1-15 (B Brogan 0-9, E O'Gara 1-0, B Cullen, S Cluxton, P McMahon, A Brogan, C Keaney, MD Macauley 0-1 each)
Tyrone 0-13 (M Penrose, O Mulligan 0-5 each, P Jordan 0-2, B McGuigan 0-1)
This was the day the tide started to turn for this Dublin team. After we shipped five goals against Meath, Pat Gilroy had turned us from a swashbuckling attacking team into a defensive-minded unit that was very difficult to break down.
The six defenders hardly crossed the halfway line, the two wing-forwards worked like dogs up and down the flanks.
This left us with four forwards to try and do the damage. Granted this Tyrone team were on the wane and we looked comfortable for long periods of this game, but we didn't score enough to really put Tyrone away.
When Eoghan O'Gara scored the goal to finally finish Tyrone off, it was more than just about that day for me, it was a wave of joyous relief that meant the previous eight years of failing to beat a really top team could be forgotten.
Finally, having beaten the great Tyrone team, a monkey was off our back.
The older guys on this Dublin team carried baggage from year to year of painful defeats and there is no doubt this was starting to weigh heavy on the likes of Stephen Cluxton, Barry Cahill, Paul Casey, Mossy Quinn and myself.
This victory broke down that barrier and provided the spark that has seen Dublin win four All-Irelands since.
It was one of my proudest days.
August 6, 2011 - Croke Park
Dublin 0-22 (D Connolly 0-7, B Brogan 0-5 (1f), A Brogan 0-3, P Flynn, S Cluxton (1f, 1 '45) 0-2 each, D Bastick, B Cullen, B Cahill 0-1 each)
Tyrone 0-15 (S Cavanagh (3f), M Penrose (3f) 0-4 each, M Donnelly, Stephen O'Neill 0-2 each, B Dooher, E McGinley, P Harte (1f) 0-1 each)
Diarmuid Connolly produced one of the best performances of score-taking I have ever seen in Croke Park on this wet afternoon. But the performance was so much more than Diarmuid's seven points. It was a focused, efficient performance where we sucked the life of the Tyrone forwards. Up front, we did enough to win the game comfortably.
Winning didn't spark quite the same emotion as the previous year, I knew our goal was something much greater than beating Tyrone in a quarter-final. It was just another step along the way in our quest to finally land a Sam Maguire.
The quality of the performance and the way we executed our plan gave us great confidence going into the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal. This game proved to be the last time a number of great Tyrone footballers, who had served the county so well over the previous ten years, would play in Croke Park on a big day.
Ryan McMenamin, Philip Jordan, Brian McGuigan, Owen Mulligan and Brian Dooher bowed out shortly after. Wonderful footballers and great competitors, I was privileged to be able to pit myself against them in so many great games over the years.
MY VERDICT ON TODAY . . .
The tide turned for Dublin in 2010 and has been flowing steadily ever since, but I know the feeling in Tyrone is that, after a number of years rebuilding, maybe now is the time when Mickey Harte has a team capable of beating the Dubs.
I like the cut of this Tyrone team and have done for a couple of years. Over the last few years I feel they have been let down by Harte's adherence to a strict defensive structure.
But maybe, similar to Pat Gilroy, Mickey was perfecting that side of the game before moving to the more complex part, breaking the opposition down.
Their average score last year (taking out the hammering of Cavan in a replay) was 16 points. This year it's up to almost 24 points. This leads me to believe there is more attacking intent from Tyrone now.
I expect Tyrone to keep the initial stages very tight and be sure not to leak any goals. They will try to get the game to 60 minutes as a close contest and then test Dublin to see if the hunger to retain their All-Ireland title is really there. I expect Dublin to answer the hard questions.
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