The Mighty McGuigans: How the Ardboe brothers helped Tyrone to the top 10 years ago
Father Frank will always be the king in the McGuigan household, but in 2008 sons Brian and Tommy helped Tyrone to a third All-Ireland title in the space of five years. With the Red Hands back on the big stage this Sunday, Neil Loughran sat down with the brothers in their beloved Ardboe to talk about everything from Mickey Harte's mind control and Twitter wind-ups to golden memories of destroying the Dubs at Croke Park a decade ago…
Neil Loughran: It’s a decade since Tyrone last reached an All-Ireland final and, as with the 2008 run, the class of 2018 recovered from an early Ulster exit to rebuild through the back door. Was it tough to recover from that 2008 defeat to Down in the Marshes? Or was Mickey Harte’s approach different having come through the Qualifiers to win the whole thing in 2005?
Tommy McGuigan: Obviously it was gutting at the time but then we had training in Cookstown on the Wednesday night. Mickey called us in and he was just positive, right from the outset.
He was adamant, not saying we were going to win it, but that we had a long season ahead of us.
He saw enough that night to believe we could do something that year.
The handy enough draw helped - we had Louth, then Westmeath, then Mayo - so the level was going up every game.
NL: And then you get the Dubs at a rain-lashed Croke Park in the quarter-final. Tyrone were big underdogs, just as they will be on Sunday, yet went out like men possessed and blitzed them early, winning by 12 in the end. Did you have a sense beforehand that it was going to be your day?
T McG: Well, I can remember before it Harte had cuttings of stuff. I think it was [former Dublin player and manager] Tom Carr who had a bit of a column calling us basically a Division Three team.
I remember it clearly before the match, Harte saying ‘just look at that boys, has he no respect for us at all?’ We were pumped that day, honestly. Even in the changing rooms you just knew it was going to be one of those days where nobody could live with us.
Even the handling in the wet conditions, they were making mistakes from the start and we weren’t. We were 3/1 that day, we’d nothing to lose, and that’s the same this time around. This team has nothing to lose.
B McG: In 2005 we were in a similar situation, but that was coming off the back of Armagh beating us in the Ulster final. Dublin was probably the one team that was going to get you going again because of the whole hype around it.
They’d go straight to the Hill and clap their supporters before the game started… we loved that. The likes of ‘Mugsy’ just loved playing against them. The thing about that Dublin team, there was a lot of pressure on them.
Yes, they’d plenty of support but when things were going wrong for them, the Dublin support could be cruel on them and have a negative effect. We got a great start and never looked back.
NL: Brian, you tweaked a hamstring before the semi-final against Wexford and didn’t come on until the second half, and when it came to the final you were named but didn’t start, Martin Penrose stayed in. Was that tough to take?
B McG: Aye, look, I accepted it. I knew all along I wouldn’t be starting. Mickey had explained to me that Marty and Ryan Mellon were hard workers, we knew we had to grind down Kerry at the start and they were ideal for the job. Then I could come on and slow the game up. Luckily it just worked out exactly the way Mickey wanted it.
But, from two years previous suffering bad injuries, for me to even be in a panel for an All-Ireland final, that was good enough.
NL: And Tommy got the all-important goal 22 seconds into the second half…
T McG: People still give me stick to this day about it being the worst goal ever scored in Croke Park but what they don't realise is I knew ‘Hub’ [Kevin Hughes] was going to miss the one-on-one so had the intelligence to follow it up!
NL: That set you on the way to winning your first All-Ireland Tommy, following in the footsteps of Brian and Frank jr. But did either of you ever feel any extra pressure coming onto the inter-county scene because you were Frank McGuigan’s sons? Did it bother you when people brought it up?
B McG: It probably annoyed him more than it annoyed us. At the end of the day you’re on a crusade to try and make your own name. I don’t think you really shake that off until you win an All-Ireland.
Tommy was coming in after me too but when he won his All-Ireland, he shook that off as well.
T McG: You’re asking did you ever get fed up of being called Frank McGuigan’s son – to be honest, you always loved people saying it to you. You were proud of him. I never thought of it as a nuisance.
NL: Do either of you have any memories of him playing? Or would you have watched much footage of him?
B McG: I can never mind daddy playing, only a few DVDs or videos. But for a man who never won an All-Ireland with the county, the way the older generations still talk about him shows you the esteem in which he was held.
Even down at the Roscommon game I was talking to Brian McEniff and he was saying ‘your da was some player’. But then the ’84 final, the one they talk about [McGuigan scored 11 points from play – five off each side and one fisted over], he always says he had five or six better games than that. He says he only touched the ball 12 or 13 times that day.
NL: Will he be there on Sunday?
B McG: Daddy would barely go to a match now unless we were playing for Ardboe or something. He would never go to a Tyrone match.
T McG: He can’t warm to the referees…
NL: I suppose plenty has changed since his playing days, and also since 2008 too. Looking at the current Tyrone team, what role would Brian and Tommy McGuigan play?
T McG: I’d say I’d be an unused sub!
Ah, it’s a hard-working team, but it’s like anything. They always say about how would daddy have got on in this team or that, but you’d adapt. You’d have to adapt to the hard-working role.
B McG: When I was playing, Mickey always drilled it into me that we needed a centre half-forward, we needed a link man, whereas in this team Niall Sludden plays a completely different game than I would’ve played.
He’s full of running, up and down the field. I was more told to hold the 40, make sure there’s always a presence there. In ’05 he said me and Stevie [O’Neill] had to have a 40 yard piece of string between us.
That area’s very congested now so it’s very hard to find space.
T McG: It was [Jim] McGuinness’s whole style of play that started this craic. I remember even one of my last times playing, you could’ve been playing wing half-forward or corner-forward, tracking your man, and Conor Gormley and them boys would be saying ‘will you get away up the f**king field out of the road’.
But it seems after that, when Donegal won, other managers started to copy it. It’s pretty ugly.
“His [O’Callaghan] not following Hampsey left him in this place where he was free. After that, you have to give him full credit for his ability and his ambition to go for goal. He didn’t really have any business to go for a goal. A young fella like him just into the team... I know he is a quality player and all the rest. Now, he got it in a way I wouldn’t like – by not being an honest broker and going after the man he should have done! That’s neither here nor there. But that changed the entire tenor of that game”
Mickey Harte relives Con O’Callaghan’s early goal in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final during an interview with The Irish Times back in January
NL: The 12-point defeat to Dublin last year – how will Mickey Harte get that out of the players’ minds going into this game?
T McG: Any match we ever lost, his first reaction was always positive. He never, ever looks at the bad. Even if you’ve lost by 10 or 15 points, the video reel the next week will be all positive with maybe the odd negative thing.
You see it in his personal life, and you see it in his approach to football – he wants to get stuck in again. That positivity rubs off on the players, and he has a good ally in ‘Horse’ [Gavin Devlin] too. He loves telling you you’re great, you’re a deadly footballer, you can do anything. That’s the kind of boy he is as well.
Mickey won’t be thinking about that Dublin game last year. He’ll just have told them that was a one-off.
NL: Reading his interview earlier in the year, when he speaks about Con O’Callaghan’s early goal, the suggestion seems to be almost that the game played out as it did because of that one moment. Is that Mickey trying to send out a message that makes the nature of that defeat easier for the players and public to digest?
T McG: I read that and thought he was wrong. He said Con O’Callaghan should’ve followed Padraig Hampsey – there’s nothing in any rulebook that says Con O’Callaghan has to follow Padraig Hampsey. At the end of the day it’s the defender’s job to mark the forward.
B McG: But people read that and they start believing it. Even when people talk about Tyrone playing negative football and whatever, all of a sudden he nails you with all these scores Tyrone got in different matches. Then people start to think ‘aye, maybe he’s right’.
NL: By the time of the final he’ll have had the players for three weeks to prepare for Dublin. How will he have used that time?
T McG: I’d imagine he’d treat the training up in Garvaghey the same as he has all year, and whatever he has come up with, I don’t think he’ll tell them to this week, would he?
B McG: No.
T McG: Before the ’08 final, I think we found out about Joe and Justy McMahon [picking up Kerry ‘twin towers’ Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh] maybe on the Friday or Saturday. He might have told Joe and Justy before that, but not the rest of us. I didn’t know Brian wasn’t starting until we got on the bus in Ardboe.
Everything’s kept right and close to the chest, but the time he has with them now, he’ll maybe go individually to a couple of players if he has a role for them so that they can focus on that.
July 16 (after Tyrone beat Roscommon in the Super 8s): ‘Anybody know any good hotels to stay in Dublin on All-Ireland weekend? Want to get ahead of the rest of the Tyrone fans and get booked early’
August 5 (after beating Donegal): ‘It’s coming home’
August 12 (after beating Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final): ‘Booked 10 rooms in the Citywest two months ago for All-Ireland weekend. Have few spare at good price if anybody looking one’
August 22 (11 days out from All-Ireland final): ‘Up in Garvaghey tonight - oh my God Dublin you won’t know what’s going to hit you. Can smell the confidence up there’
NL: Brian, you’ve been doing plenty of fishing on Twitter in the last couple of months. Did you manage to shift any of those rooms for this weekend?
B McG: Haha. I didn’t even take my own advice and book a room. Sometimes I get bored and like to do a bit of winding on Twitter and all the Dublin ones get back to me. But they’re all just saving it for if Dublin win.
I’m going to have to go off Twitter if Tyrone get beat.
NL: Could you smell the confidence at Garvaghey?
B McG: Not really! I don’t know if it’s that the supporters are going down in hope more than anything but there definitely isn’t the same buzz. I don’t know what that’s down to. I came through Ballygawley town last night and there wasn’t one flag up.
But I was speaking to Mickey last night and you’ll never meet a more positive man.
NL: Does it surprise you that there are still those within the county who wanted him out?
B McG: There’s nobody as bad as Tyrone ones when things are going bad. They can be as cruel. The same people that’s giving Mickey credit now are the same boys who were looking rid of him last year.
It’s unbelievable how people would want rid of him.
NL: Why do you think that is?
B McG: It’s hard to know. With Mickey, it’s probably the way he puts himself out there with things outside of football. It doesn’t agree with some people. But I’d like them to come up with a solution to the whole thing – who’s going to come in and do a better job?
I was thinking if he won this, he might walk away. But then he’s automatically thinking, Monday morning, I’ve never done two in-a-row…
NL: Plotting to take down the Dubs is probably the biggest challenge he has ever faced. Can you make a case for Tyrone on Sunday?
T McG: I’m sure Brian would be the same but I always dreamt about playing Dublin in a final because that was always the best atmosphere. It was always class to play them.
But that’s why it’s vital for Tyrone to get on top of them to shut up the crowd. You’d love to see somebody maybe getting sent off for Dublin in the first half to see what they’re made of.
B McG: Ten years ago Kerry were maybe the better team in terms of individuals, but that doesn’t necessarily get you over the line. It’s very similar to how Tyrone are going into the final this year.
It’s really a game where you don’t know what to expect. It has the potential to be a pure car crash altogether for Tyrone if Dublin get in front and get away from them. In Omagh that night in the Super 8s, when they went five in front, they could’ve really kicked on.
Everybody’s just sort of living in hope that Mickey’s going to come up with something and get everything spot on, which he usually does.
You’d have to say if he wins this one, it’ll be his best ever.