Sunday 21 October 2018

Alan Brogan: We knew on the bus home after the 'Battle of Omagh' that we had been involved in something serious

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Alan Brogan is sent off by referee Paddy Russell in Omagh in 2006
Alan Brogan is sent off by referee Paddy Russell in Omagh in 2006

Alan Brogan

Firstly, some context. Before we played Tyrone in Omagh in 2006, they beat us in a replay the previous August in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Before that again, we had beaten them in a fairly narky League game at Parnell Park in 2004 and the hostility between us had been rising slowly.

But the quarter-final was a killer.

We’d been five points up in the drawn game and after winning back the Leinster title, we had a great chance to get the scalp of a recent All-Ireland winner and push on under new management.

So we were sore.

And we went up to Healy Park for what was a first League match of our second season under ‘Pillar’, not just against All-Ireland champions but champions that had a sort of fearsome reputation.

No-one wanted to take a backwards step. We were wired.

Probably too much so.

We badly wanted to beat Tyrone but we also wanted to make sure we made an impression in case we met them later in the year and in fairness to Tyrone at that time, they wouldn’t exactly have been shy either.

So all the conditions were there for what happened.

So was the environment.

Anyone who has played a game in Omagh or even been to one there there will testify that it’s quite an intimidating place to play.

When you get off the bus, you’re inside the ground but not inside the actual building, if you get me.

So it means you have to walk through the crowd to get into the dressing-room and then you have to move through them again to get on the pitch, eyes trained on the destination, pretending not to hear every comment.

It just had an atmosphere of something a little bit different that day, in part because we didn’t know the ground at all.

Don’t get me wrong. It did get ugly. And there were big men on the pitch that day; Peadar Andrews had his jersey ripped off.

Denis Bastick and Conor Gormley, too – fellas you’d rather be standing behind than in front of in a melee.

But I’m not sure how many punches were actually thrown between us on the pitch.

Where it got serious was the shoving match that broke out on the sideline after I was sent off.

There was a wire fence around the pitch at that time and our subs were up in the stands, plus you had a situation where supporters, by virtue of their proximity to the row, felt duty bound to get involved.

It wasn’t nice. That game was live on TG4 so the whole thing instantly became national news.

There was no Twitter at the time, things didn’t go viral so quickly and the news cycle wasn’t as instant as it is now.

But we knew on the bus coming home we had gotten ourselves into something serious. Mickey Harte nailed it when he said afterwards that God Almighty himself wouldn’t have been able to ref that game.

So the aftermath was pretty hysterical.

Eight of us were suspended but we all got off on a technicality, the nature of which, to this day, I still have no idea.

It’s not an afternoon I recall fondly, although it’s one I’m reminded about surprisingly often.

The detail that people forget is that we actually won the game, but such detail was deemed inconsequential in the days that followed.

Saturday will be a totally new experience for these Dublin players.

They’re playing arguably the form team in the country in their home ground and even if the consequences of losing aren’t exactly perilous, it’s a huge challenge.

It’s as big a test as Dublin have faced over the last few years, including All-Ireland finals.

If they win, it should provide a huge psychological advantage going into the All-Ireland series. A loss and they’ll only add fuel to the argument that their success is built partly on playing so many matches at Croke Park.

A victory on Saturday would put a lot of that talk to bed.

Personally, I’ve been waiting for Tyrone to come as a serious All-Ireland winning force for the last two years, but they’ve been disappointing at Croke Park at the business end of the Championship.

They have some of the best footballers in the country, but in 2016, they seemed too preoccupied with not conceding goals to allow their creative players to flourish while last year, they were criminally one-dimensional against Dublin at Croker.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneaked it on Saturday.

For all the talk of Healy Park not being a fortress, Tyrone will still be far more accustomed to it than Dublin and on a tighter pitch, they should ensure that the goal chances Niall Scully took and Con O’Callaghan didn’t against Donegal never materialise.

Both teams will live to fight another day regardless but with Dublin having Roscommon at Croke Park in their last group match and Tyrone going to Ballybofey, their need is far greater.

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