Wednesday 15 August 2018

Tyrone-Dubs a volcanic rivalry ready to explode

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

Martin Breheny

It's the chance all Dublin's opposition have longed for since 2006 and has sent optimism levels soaring in Tyrone ahead of Saturday's 'Super 8s' round robin clash in Omagh.

Dublin will be playing a championship game on opposition ground for the first time since beating Longford in Pearse Park 12 years ago. Their only games away from Croke Park since then were the 2016-'17-'18 Leinster quarter-finals, which were played at neutral venues.

Now, it's into Healy Park, with former Tyrone treble All-Ireland medal winner Owen Mulligan calling on the home crowd to make it intimidating and uncomfortable for the champions.

Motivation

Ironically, if Tyrone had retained the Ulster title, they would have played Dublin in Croke Park, scene of last year's obliteration in the All-Ireland semi-final. Dublin's 12-point win was the largest inflicted on Tyrone in the championship for 20 years.

That embarrassment, coupled with the opportunity to make amends in Healy Park, will have sent Tyrone's motivation soaring to stratospheric levels.

It's backed up by a recent power surge, which has enabled them to win five successive games, the last two against Cork and Roscommon by an average of 17 points.

Playing at home will help raise their intensity levels, certainly by comparison with last year's All-Ireland semi-final, where their docile approach was most uncharacteristic.

Whereas Dublin had five players yellow-carded by referee David Coldrick - who will also be in charge on Saturday -midfielder Colm Cavanagh was the only Tyrone man to draw an official sanction.

It was as if most of the Tyrone players had been hit with a tranquillising dart and while Mickey Harte did not publicly mention their tameness, reminders will surely have featured in the build-up to Saturday's game.

It was ten months before he learned that the next opportunity to test Dublin in the championship would come in Omagh, which Tyrone will try to turn into a cauldron on and off the pitch.

Dublin aren't exactly shy on the physical front either, so Coldrick could face an altogether different test to last year when he awarded only 25 frees. But then Tyrone were second best all the way, so the physical side of the exchanges were less significant than usual.

The Dublin-Tyrone games of more recent years have not been as physically ferocious as in previous times but that's likely to change on Saturday.

Indeed, there was a time when the rivalry came with an assortment of unsavoury sideshows, including a stand-off in the warm-up before an All-Ireland semi-final, a tense few days when Tyrone considered objecting to an All-Ireland final result and the infamous 'Battle of Omagh', which led to multi-suspensions and heavy fines.

The first-ever championship game between the counties in the 1984 All-Ireland semi-final provoked a tense situation in the warm-up when both teams congregated at the Hill 16 end.

Tyrone were first out and were joined by Dublin, leading to a chaotic situation. "The action of the Dublin team would further advance the case for playing semi-finals involving Dublin outside of Croke Park," said Tyrone manager Art McRory afterwards.

Dublin goalkeeper John O'Leary offered a simple explanation for heading to the Hill 16 end, despite Tyrone being already there. "It seemed the natural thing to do. It's a Dublin tradition to limber up there," he said.

Violence later erupted on Hill 16, during which gardaí were attacked when they went to the assistance of a man who had been hit with a flagpole.

Eleven years later, another controversy erupted during the All-Ireland final when Charlie Redmond remained on the pitch after being ordered off by referee Paddy Russell.

Redmond later insisted that he thought he had been booked rather than dismissed and it wasn't until two minutes later that Russell spotted he was still on the pitch. Dublin won by a point, prompting Tyrone to consider seeking a rematch. They decided against it a few days later.

Healy Park saw disgraceful scenes during a Tyrone-Dublin League game in 2006. Several ugly brawls broke out, four players were sent off and the referee later admitted that one more flare-up would have led to abandonment.

Both sides sought to distance themselves from the violence, but got no sympathy from Croke Park, who suspended seven players and fined the county boards €10,000 each.

Irish Independent

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