Tuesday 13 November 2018

Turning point, punch-ups and Diarmuid Connolly's stand-out display: Six steps in epic Dublin/Tyrone rivalry

Owen Mulligan, Tyrone, shoots past Stephen Cluxton in the Dublin goal to score his side's second goa in 2005
Owen Mulligan, Tyrone, shoots past Stephen Cluxton in the Dublin goal to score his side's second goa in 2005
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

BACK in 1984, we had the surreal sight of both teams warming up in front of the Hill. In 1995, we had controversy on the double over Charlie Redmond's 'long walk' and a disallowed Tyrone equaliser at the death.

But the rivalry between Dublin and Tyrone was still a sporadic event until Mickey Harte climbed into the Red Hand hotseat in 2003.

The rest, as they say, is history. A saga that helped to shape the greatest Tyrone team in history, and one that has facilitated the rebirth of Dublin as a perennial All-Ireland force.

And did we mention the rows?

The following six steps help to define this very modern rivalry, one that will have its latest SFC rendition in Healy Park, Omagh, tomorrow night (7pm).

2005: THE SAGA BEGINS

The most absorbing championship clash between Dublin and Tyrone? No contest - the drawn All-Ireland quarter-final of 2005.

This game had everything. A high-fielding masterclass from Ciarán Whelan in the first half. A tactical revamp at half-time that copperfastened Harte's reputation as a tactical savant. Then a goal from the previously subdued Owen Mulligan, crowned by two outrageous dummies, that was one for the ages.

A game that Dublin appeared to have lost was rescued by Tomás Quinn's late brace, including an equalising free at the death to make it 1-14 apiece.

But in the replay, a reborn Mulligan shot 1-7 and Tyrone eventually ran out seven-point winners, 2-18 to 1-14. Dublin had been the catalyst to reignite their summer after an Ulster replay loss to Armagh, and it would all end on the steps of the Hogan.

2006: BATTLE OF OMAGH

If 2005 was good for Tyrone and ultimately bad for Dublin, this was just ugly. Hard to believe that a season-opening league contest, at Healy Park, has probably generated more column inches and headlines than any of their year-defining championship collisions.

As for the gory details, the game kicked off with an early skirmish and later descended into second half anarchy with two all-in brawls, one of which spilled over to the sideline. With temperatures rising, Dublin boss Paul 'Pillar' Caffrey called his subs down from the stand.

Two players from either side were sent off - Tyrone's Colin Holmes was the only recipient of a straight red and the only one, ultimately, to serve a suspension. Nine players were charged with bringing the game into disrepute but all cases were eventually thrown out on appeal to the CAC.

Even if the key match stat, Dublin's 1-9 to 1-6 victory, is almost forgotten, two quotes have stood the test of time. The first, from referee Paddy Russell who described the atmosphere as "frightening" and admitted that he considered abandoning the game. The second from Harte, who said: "If Paddy Russell had been God Almighty he couldn't have refereed the game."

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Tyrone and Dublin players scuffle on the pitch during the infamous ‘Battle of Omagh’ that saw four players sent off in 2006. Photo: Sportsfile

2008: THE END OF PILLAR

No one saw this one coming - not on this scale. Tyrone had tottered through the qualifiers in a manner suggesting their first decent rival would put them out of their misery. Dublin had walloped Wexford by 23 points to retain their Leinster vice-grip.

The stage was set ... instead, what transpired was a thrilling reminder of Tyrone's All-Ireland pedigree and a bleak end to Caffrey's four-year quest for Sam.

Dublin actually started this rain-soaked quarter-final quite brightly but paid for a series of bad wides. Tyrone took command in the second quarter (goals from Seán Cavanagh and Joe McMahon sandwiching a Conal Keaney flick to the net) to lead by five at the break, then a Davy Harte goal sealed Dublin's 3-14 to 1-8 fate. "It certainly wasn't how we wished it to end today, but that's football," said 'Pillar', who resigned straight after.

2010: THE TURNING

Dublin's dominance might never have materialised but for their 2011 breakthrough. That might never have happened but for Pat Gilroy's drastic revamp of team, structure and culture in 2010. And their 2010 rebirth might not have amounted to a hill of beans if they hadn't beaten Tyrone, their then-nemesis, in a nerve-jangling quarter-final.

The game-breaker came in the 65th minute, with the sides level at 0-13 apiece. Paul Flynn's point attempt rebounded off an upright - and straight to Eoghan O'Gara, who gobbled up the goal chance. Released from their shackles, Dublin won by five.

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Eoghan O'Gara, Dublin, celebrates with team-mate Bernard Brogan after scoring his side's first goal as Tyrone's Justin McMahon in 2010

2011: GILLER'S FINEST HOUR

Okay, it wasn't as big a deal or even half as dramatic as beating Kerry with a late surge to end the All-Ireland famine. But the quarter-final that year stands out as Dublin's finest ever performance under Pat Gilroy.

The only shame is that the 0-22 to 0-15 scoreline didn't do justice to Dublin's dominance on a night they failed to convert three presentable goal chances.

It also remains Diarmuid Connolly's standout display in Sky Blue, as three different markers couldn't prevent Merlin of Marino from amassing 0-7 from play. "We could have put on ten different subs tonight and it would have made no difference," lamented Harte afterwards.

2017: THE MASSACRE

We'll keep this brief, partly because the memory is so recent and partly out of sympathy for a traumatised Tyrone. They came to Croker for last year's semi-final with a reputation for impregnable defence and counter-attacking devastation.

They delivered neither.

Maybe it was the shock to the psyche of Con O'Callaghan's fifth minute thunderbolt. Or the all-round magnificence of Dublin on the day (this was arguably their best All-Ireland series display under Jim Gavin). Either way, Eoghan O'Gara's late fisted goal and Peter Harte's saved penalty put the tin hat on a 12-point massacre that mirrored Dublin's collapse, nine years previously.

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