Saturday 17 March 2018

Comment: Canada, Omagh or Croke Park - wherever Dublin play Tyrone, fireworks follow

5 February 2006; Tyrone and Dublin players scuffle during the game as Dublin manager Paul Cafferey tries to intervene. Allianz National Football League, Division 1A, Round 1, Tyrone v Dublin, Healy Park, Omagh, Co. Tyrone. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
5 February 2006; Tyrone and Dublin players scuffle during the game as Dublin manager Paul Cafferey tries to intervene. Allianz National Football League, Division 1A, Round 1, Tyrone v Dublin, Healy Park, Omagh, Co. Tyrone. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Declan Bogue

ONCE upon a time in the tea room of Breffni Park prior to an Ulster Championship match, another journalist and myself were mulling over the mysteries of Tyrone GAA with former Armagh joint-manager Brian Canavan.

The topic turned to the 1995 All-Ireland final and the way Charlie Redmond might look at you after being red-carded, convinced he had been the victim of a mere scolding.

"That was a terrible thing," said Canavan. An Armagh man, expressing his sympathy for a mishap involving Tyrone. Truly, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Around about that time in 1995, a cliché entered the sporting mindset, that the GAA in some way 'needed' a Dublin All-Ireland win. You heard it again after they went 16 years between the 1995 and 2011 Sam Maguire triumphs. You don't hear it so much now. 

As Mickey Harte puts the final touches to his team ahead of next weekend's All-Ireland semi-final, he will be thinking of the uncompromising history between these two. How he taps into that is up to him, but if they are not at the pitch of the game from the very first second, then they are in bother.

Tyrone and Dublin first met in Championship football in the 1984 All-Ireland semi-final. The influx of Tyrone supporters into the capital was not a smooth operation. The front page of the following day's Irish Independent talked of violence on Hill 16, erupting after Tyrone decided they would take advantage of Dublin's tawdriness to limber up in front of the Hill.

'Several officers received superficial injuries after being showered with broken bottles, coins, stones and other missiles. "Some of the crowd behaved like savages," Inspector Denis Hurley of Fitzgibbon Street claimed last night. "They were absolutely stoned with beer and cider."'

There were league meetings since, but nothing brings out the biff like a game not played under threat of official GAA sanction.

If you have a spare ten minutes you can gouge out of your undoubtedly frantic schedule, it is well worth spending them on YouTube watching the highlights of the 'Canada Cup' tie, a one-off game in 1990 between a be-sneakered Dublin and Tyrone played on hard ground, the stands teaming with stage-Irish caricatures.

There's something about counties when they get to play exhibition games on another continent. Galway and Dublin only thought they flaked into each other during the Super Elevens hurling exhibition in Boston.

25 years previously and 550 miles to the north west, Tyrone and Dublin tore strips off one another.

Blaine Schmidt, a Gridiron guard with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League was interviewed at half-time for Canadian Television. Impressed as he was with the excitement on display, he added, "It's dangerous. I seen a few bumps and bruises on these guys. What's good about our football is we get to wear equipment at least. These guys are just throwing their bodies around like they're expendable."

And then the footage cut to Damian O'Hagan of Coalisland putting in a late challenge on Tommy Carr, before Carr puts the head into him. Marvellous stuff. Soon after, Mick Deegan gives an eighteen-year-old Peter Canavan a punch on the Adam's Apple.

A few of the characters were still about in 1995, when they met for only the second time in Championship football in that final. Charlie was shown red by referee Paddy Russell but hung about for another while, occupying a Tyrone defender and preventing a possible tactical switch.

Then there was the infamous disallowed point at the end, Canavan clawing the ball up to Seanie McLaughlin to split the posts only for Russell to adjudge it had been touched on the ground.

Such injustices burned in the stomach of Canavan for years and years and he readily admits to that fuelling his journey towards two eventual All-Irelands.

They also got the better of Dublin after a replay in 2005 during the second triumph, those two tests going down in history for the skills of Owen Mulligan.

Sickened by losing that one, Dublin came up and set the terms for the 'Battle of Omagh' in 2006. Alan Brogan has written how a new Dublin was born that day.

Their big statement came in the 2010 quarter-final, when their frantic tackling brought a win over Dublin. The following year, Dublin and Diarmuid Connolly in particular, finished the Golden Generation of Tyrone footballers in the 2011 quarter-final, prompting a flood of retirements, before Kerry picked off the bones the following year in Killarney.

Tyrone have always played best against Dublin when there is skin in the game. Resentments that have to be acted out. Two tribes of people with such a strong sense of self will always be a combustible mix.

The question we will ponder over the next week and a half is, do Tyrone have the type of character that responds to it?


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