Adrian Cush and Fergal McCusker recall red-hot Championship of 1995
FLASHBACK: 1995 Ulster SFC semi-final: Tyrone 0-11 Derry 0-10
Sean O’Neill looks back at the ‘vitriolic’ 1995 game with Tyrone’s Adrian Cush and Derry’s Fergal McCusker...
WHAT Adrian Cush remembers most was the unmerciful heat.
The temperatures were in the high 70s on the streets of Clones for the 1995 Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final meeting of Derry and Tyrone. And with 30,000 souls packed into the old ground on that June Sunday, it must have been considerably higher on the pitch.
Cush was introduced as a half-time sub for Mattie McGleenan as Tyrone trailed 0-8 to 0-5. In addition, Tyrone had had two players sent-off in a fiery first-half. Seamus McCallan walked for two bookable offences and Pascal Canavan was lined after clashing with Damian Barton.
The fleet-footed former Donaghmore attacker recalled the atmosphere in Tyrone at that time: “The build up to the game was incredible,” remembers Cush.
“When we go back to 1995 - we were the top two teams in Ulster, the rivalry was intense and this game was do-or-die. It started about a month before the game. Every paper you opened, every time you turned on the radio, every time you turned on the TV, it was Tyrone-Derry, Tyrone-Derry, Tyrone-Derry…
“The one thing that stands out was the heat. The hits were going in and the heat was incredible, there were ice bags being thrown on, water bottles being tossed - this was during play. And the people were everywhere. It was just a blaze of red-and-white. The ground was firm, the ball was hard - the conditions were perfect.”
Do or die indeed. Tyrone had not beaten Derry in their previous nine league and Championship encounters. This had included losses in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship in 1991, the National League final of 1992, the preliminary round of Ulster again in 1992 and, in the lead up to the Clones clash, another narrow defeat in the league semi-final.
Tyrone had had to sit and suffer while Down, Donegal and Derry had brought Sam Maguire north in a renaissance for Ulster football. They hoped their time was coming and Cush insists they simply could not countenance another defeat to the Oak Leafers.
At half-time though, it was not looking good for Art McRory and Eugene McKenna’s men. That said, he recalled there was no sense of panic as they stood in the dressing room at St Tiernach’s Park.
“Our backs were against the wall,” said Cush.
“It was eight points to five, we were two men down. I remember in the changing rooms at half-time - everybody was stripped off again - it was that hot. But the one thing that I can always clearly remember - everybody was calm.
“I remember the management telling us that Derry - rightly or wrongly - thought the game was over. But we were convinced in the changing rooms that we had a chance.”
In the second-half, Tyrone out-scored their opponents by 0-6 to 0-2 in a brilliant, defiant display. Jody Gormley stroked over a left-footed winner, while the superb Peter Canavan garnered a 10-out-of-10 rating in The Irish News as he finished with 0-8.
Derry, of course, also had Fergal McCusker lined in the second-half and he, like Cush, remembers a game which mirrored the sizzling heat: “It was probably the most vitriolic, bad tempered and spiteful game I can remember,” was the Glen man’s stark recollection.
Derry, though holding that three-point lead at the interval, were heavily reliant on the free taking of Tohill and Enda Gormley. Indeed, they only scored one point from play, through Eamon Burns, in the entire game.
“That was probably when the rivalry between the two teams peaked,” said McCusker.
“From 1991 to 1995, we met eachother a lot in the Championship and the league and, I suppose, with near neighbours the rivalry does build. It was a particularly hot day that day too and that maybe affected a few fans.
“It was one of those days where - I know from talking to people - you thought maybe there was going to be crowd trouble or stuff was going to spill over, but thankfully it didn’t. It was hot and heavy, the white heat of Championship battle.”
When the dust had settled, McCusker, naturally enough, could not be far enough away from the county Monaghan town: “We were out - there was no backdoor,” he said.
“I had got sent-off and I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. There was a pitch invasion of course and it’s just the last place you want to be. A one-point defeat in an Ulster Championship semi-final - it doesn’t get much worse, in fairness.
“It was down through Clones and hard to get out of it. And Tyrone fans obviously spotting you and you just want to keep your head down, get up the road and go and hide for a couple of weeks.”
For Cush, the emotions were, obviously, in utter contrast: “It was just elation and tremendous relief - there was no way that we could face the Tyrone public again after losing another tight game,” he stressed.
“We had suffered heart breaking results against Derry, who were a top team. We felt we were a top team, but we had nothing to show for it. I will always remember the two managers in the changing room after the match telling us that we’ve won nothing,” he said.
“And we went to the training on the Tuesday night and I never put in a session like it. It was brutal - an absolutely savage running match. It wasn’t the fact that we needed the fitness - the message they were trying to get across was - we have won nothing yet and your feet are back on the ground.”
1995 MATCH STATS
Derry: D McCusker; K McKeever, T Scullion, G Coleman; J McGurk, H Downey, F McCusker; A Tohill (0-5 frees), B McGilligan; D Heaney, D Barton, E Burns (0-1); D Bateson, S Downey, E Gormley (0-4 frees); Subs: O Collins for B McGilligan, D Cassidy for D Bateson, G McGonigle for D Barton
Tyrone: F McConnell; P Devlin, C Lawn, F Devlin; R McGarrity, S McCallan, S McLaughlin (0-1); F Logan, J Gormley (0-1); C Corr (0-1), Pascal Canavan, C Loughran; M McGleenan, Peter Canavan (0-8), S Lawn; Subs: P Donnelly for R McGarrity, A Cush for M McGleenan, G Cavlan for C Loughran
ADRIAN CUSH'S VERDICT ON SUNDAY'S GAME
From a Tyrone perspective - we’re in a good position, but Derry are perfectly primed for an ambush.
They’re coming in under the radar. They’re at home - all the pressure is on Tyrone and I think Derry are a better team than their National League Division Two final position showed. They also had to play their last four or five games without Barton along the line.
If Derry get beat by 10 points - nobody can accuse them of anything. If they win by a point - this will be the mother of all victories for them. I think we’ll win, but I think it’s going to be a serious challenge.
FERGAL McCUSKER'S VERDICT
Tyrone people are very wary of the game. It’s Celtic Park and they just think we’re lying in the long grass waiting on them.
But if you were looking at the thing rationally and looking at the two panels - the better footballers are in the Tyrone panel at the minute. But that’s not to say that the game could take on a life of its own.
There are still good footballers in Derry - there are a lot of boys there with a lot to prove and I’m sure they are relishing the opportunity. You have to say Tyrone are favourites, but I just want to see a performance.
I want to see boys buried with their boots on - if we’re going to go down, let’s go down with a fight.