Make Moy day. Former Tyrone stars Mickey Jordan, Ryan Mellon and Sean Cavanagh have their say on the All-Ireland final
MICKEY Jordan polished off a juicy steak at a barbecue in the Moy club on Saturday night.
As a young man, well before the days of benchpressing and dumb bells, Mickey the bricky was famed for lifting six-inch blocks onto walls one handed (left or right, it didn't matter).
He played football for Eglish when he sat down his trowel and his spirit level and he was part of the Tyrone team that ended a 16-year drought by winning the Ulster title (only the county's third) back in 1973.
A couple of weeks' later, the Red Hands faced Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final. Mickey says the gameplan amounted to: ‘Get out and get stuck into them'.
It didn't pay off and 45 years on, he expects Mickey Harte to come up with something more sophisticated. He gives Tyrone a “fighting chance” in Sunday's clash with Dublin.
“They'll give their all and just hope for the best but they're up against it,” he says.
Mickey's son Philip won All-Irelands in 2003, 2005 and 2008. Back then fans of the Red Hands boarded buses heading for Croke Park ready to rip up the southerners' scripts.
There isn't the same vibe ahead of Sunday's clash with four in-a-row chasing Dublin.
“We wouldn't be just as confident this time,” says Mickey.
“They're up against a mighty Dublin team. Every man will have to be on top form and everything will need to go right on the day.”
His wife Maura agrees. “We're more hopeful than anything,” she said.
“Dublin are another level, we have never seen a team like Dublin even going away back over the years. But you have to have hope. It's all on the day.”
The bar in the marquee, jointly owned by them and Collegeland (their neighbours just across the Blackwater River in Armagh) is doing good business and there's a jovial hum in the air as friends and family discuss Tyrone's chances against the Dubs.
“I'm pro-Mickey,” says one lady, jabbing a finger at her husband: “He's anti-Mickey.”
“Och now, well…,” he replies.
“Here, that was at the start of the year, but I've come round to him again.”
A little success soon restores belief and a couple of tables away, Ryan Mellon, a man with first-hand knowledge of the Tyrone manager, eats dinner with his family. Like his clubmates Phillip Jordan and the Cavanagh's Sean and Colm, Mellon was part of the groundbreaking Tyrone side of the noughties.
A panelist in 2003, he played in the finals of 2005 and 2008.
“It's great that the lads are back there,” he said.
“It's a fantastic experience. When you're playing you have to separate yourself from the build-up, but you can enjoy it and it fuels you a wee bit as well.
“One thing Mickey was very big on was us enjoying it.
“You have to enjoy it. You see what it means to your community, people are proud that you're there. This brings it all back how big of an event it is and what it means to people.”
Mellon scored the first two points – one from the right wing, the next from the left – to steady Tyrone in the early stages of the 2005 final win over Kerry.
“To be honest it was relief, pure relief,” he says when I ask him to sum up how he felt at the final whistle that day.
“It's just relief that you've got over the line and you've won.
“After that, when you go to the banquet and you see your family, you start to feel the joy and the enormity of the whole thing.”
Mellon admits the Red Hands are “outsiders” in Sunday's final but says their status as rank underdogs – 7/1 with some bookies - could benefit them.
“Tyrone have a chance,” he says.
“You can't come into the final a better way. Not too many people are giving them a chance, they didn't play at their best in the semi-final but they did enough to get into the final and the big thing for them now is to focus on performing.
“People talk and winning and losing but you have to let go of that and go out and focus on doing the jobs that you've got to do. Focus on executing them – if they do those things right you've got a chance.
“They are battle-hardened, they've had three weeks to rejuvenate and focus in on a gameplan will benefit them.”
As we talk, a small army of volunteers serves food and drinks, collects empties and clean tables. Philly McQuade, a former club chairman, is in the thick of it all. The McQuades are Moy stalwarts. His brother is the current chairman and his dad Franky and sister are there to support the function.
“I wasn't supposed to be working at this, but you always get a job,” says Philly, a taxi driver, with a smile.
He has just restocked the bar which, for a staunch clubman like him, means a good crowd has turned out. That makes it a successful night.
“I'd like to see Tyrone go out, go man-to-man and get in their faces early on,” he says.
“I'd love to see them get a few scores on the board and see if they can rattle Dublin.
“Some time that Dublin team is going to fail and it could be this time. I'm hopeful, we're all hopeful.”
The levels of expectation may have dipped but there's no shortage of bunting or flags up around Tyrone. Go to Killyclogher and it's ‘Good luck Tiarnan, Mark and Conall' and there in Moy it's ‘Good luck to Colm and Harry'.
“It (Sam Maguire fever) is coming back,” says Philly.
“It'll be next week before it all kicks in, that's the way it always is.
“There are some great memories but 2003… You could probably never repeat that. Playing Armagh and he whole atmosphere around the Moy… You'll never get that again.
“People from Armagh living in the Moy – my mother is from Armagh – the whole rivalry was unreal. The Dubs are a different thing but we've had some run-ins with them in the past.
“Hopefully it'll be a deadly occasion.”
It's getting dark and there's an autumnal chill in the air as youngsters kick the ball about on the pitch dreaming of being the next Jordan or Mellon or Cavanagh.
The barbecue crowd has spilled out into the carpark and there, with a bottle or beer in each hand, standing chatting to a group of mates, is three-time All-Ireland winner, five-time Allstar and 2008 Footballer of the Year, Sean Cavanagh.
The great man is enjoying the change of tempo from player to punter.
“Aye as a player you shut yourself away as much as possible,” he says with a broad smile.
“You know it's all going on but you try not to let yourself get distracted. I've got two wee girls now, they're five and seven, and they're running around with Tyrone jerseys on talking about uncle Colm. It's nice that you can see that side of it.”
Sean was all long arms and legs and skill and tenacity when he made his Championship debut against Armagh back in 2002. Orchard county fans were impressed right from the start.
“That number 19 is a good player,” remarked a savvy Armagh fan in the Gerry Arthur Stand that day.
“That's my brother!” said a young Tyrone lad who was sitting in the row in front. It turned out to be Colm Cavanagh who was bursting with pride.
“I'm immensely proud of Colm,” says Sean.
“I always have been. As mad as it sounds I've always been more proud of what he's done than what I've done.
“We're very close. We live five metres away from each other so I see him every day.
“I knew he was a leader in the team along with Mattie (Donnelly) and Petey (Harte) but in the last couple of games he has stepped up another level. Without him we wouldn't be in this final.
“It's nice that because I had some really good days in the Tyrone jersey and to watch Colm do that now is sweet.”
He admits he finds it hard to watch games after retiring at the end of last season – a hammering from Dublin was a cruel way to bring down the curtain – and describes himself as “the worst spectator in the world”. But he does not miss it.
“I always feared not being involved because I had been there so long but I have to say that I haven't missed it,” he said.
“That sounds mad because it's something that controlled every aspect of my life for 17 years and I was ready to go and I was ready at the end of 2016 but the Mayo defeat and the way it happened, I had to stay on.
“There was no doubt I was ready to go and it was time to pass the baton on. Hopefully I've helped to influence some of the lads that play on Sunday I have good relationships with 99 per cent of them and I'll be immensely proud of them if they can do it.
“I'm a Tyrone supporter and I hope on Sunday I get the chance to stand in the Hogan Stand and hug some of the Tyrone players.”
They'll leave for Dublin more in hope than expectation. But don't write them off…