GAA Football

2009: When back-to-back All-Ireland titles were on the agenda for Tyrone

Cork's Colm O'Neill gets a shot away from Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh in the 2009 All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park Picture by Colm O'Reilly
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship

WHEN Cork rolled over Tyrone in their 2009 All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park, much of the talk afterwards was about how Mickey Harte’s men had let the chance of winning back-to-back Sam Maguires for the first time slip through their fingers.

“It [retaining the All-Ireland] hasn’t happened that many times in the last 25-30 years… Therefore, if we want to achieve that, then we’ve a long, long road to go,” was Harte’s assessment on the final whistle.

“The end of a chapter then, but Tyrone’s story will go on,” was The Irish News’ (and Tyrone’s) very own Kenny Archer’s take on the outcome.

On the day, Cork refused to relinquish their lead from as early as the seventh minute, when Daniel Goulding fired a loose ball into the roof of the net after PJ Quinn had blocked down Colm O’Neill’s shot.

Tyrone may initially have had to do without reigning footballer-of-the-year Seán Cavanagh due to a stomach bug, but then Cork were playing with 14 men from the half-hour following the unwarranted dismissal of Alan O’Connor. Overall, Cork’s five-point victory was a merited one.

However, if you’d suggested to either Mickey or Kenny that, a decade later, Tyrone – under the same management – would have reached a solitary All-Ireland final and lost that by six to Dublin, they’d possibly have scoffed at you.

Then again, they would have been sceptical if you had told them that, 10 years on, Donald Trump would be firing off racist tweets from the White House water closest or that Boris Johnston was preparing to get his glorious blonde bap chopped in the cabinet room of number 10 Downing Street or that Cork would be playing their football in Division Three of the National League. A decade’s a really long time in most fields of life, after all.

Colm O’Rourke, however, was happy to risk a scoff or two: “It’s probably the end of Tyrone,” the Meath great mused on The Sunday Game back in August 2009 as Pat Spillane and Joe Brolly were busy attempting to knock shades out of one another on the studio floor.

“We probably won’t see the likes of Brian Dooher and Brian McGuigan playing in Croke Park again,” added O’Rourke, oblivious to the Derry and Kerry-accented screams emanating from the direction of his suit shoes.

And yet, the next year, both Dooher and McGuigan were back at Headquarters to take on Dublin… only for them to toil against a team whose time was very nearly at hand in their march to become the undisputed Gaelic kings of the century to date.

On the same weekend, the Tyrone minor footballers comfortably accounted for Kerry on their way to the All-Ireland title, with names like Niall Sludden, Richard Donnelly, Hugh Patrick McGeary and Ronan O’Neill featuring. The same names would feature the next time Mickey Harte got his panel to a senior decider.

Cork were All-Ireland champions in 2010, beating Down by the bare minimum to make up for the previous September’s defeat to Kerry. But this was also their peak. Over the next seven seasons, they went, consecutively, from semi-finalists twice in succession, to quarter-finalists twice, to making and falling at round four three times on the bounce.

Their round four failures included last year’s 16-point hammering at the hands of Tyrone, when they were a shadow of the side that made the All-Ireland semi-finals on a seemingly perpetual basis just a few years before. Not coincidentally, All-Ireland winners of the calibre of Eoin Cadogan, Michael Shields, Paddy Kelly and Alan O’Connor had hung up their football boots the year before.

This year, Cork have made the Super 8s in spite of their relegation to Division Three in the spring, while Tyrone have kicked on from last year’s final defeat to again reach the business end of the summer with Mickey at the wheel.

Forget back-to-back All-Irelands. Even one more scent of Sam would make it the summer to end all summers for either of these counties.

3

THE number of times Tyrone and Cork have met in the Championship – the first two in All-Ireland semi-finals (1973 and 2009), with Cork holding a 100 per cent record until last year’s humiliation in Portlaoise.

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