GAA Football

Profile: Five of Tyrone's footballing heroes

Tyrone's Brian Dooher on the way past Kerry's Seamus Moynihan. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Francis Mooney

Tyrone’s golden era brought unprecedented success an unimaginable joy to a county sustained by dreams for generations.

Three All-Ireland titles in the space of six years transformed the gaelic football landscape as a new force moved in to claim its place among the giants of the game.

It was the noughties, a time for realignment and a shifting of boundaries in a world that was to change forever.

From the first Sam Maguire Cup success in 2003 through to a third in ’08, Red Hands had found their voice, and the men to led them to a place they had never known remain legends.

During the paste decade, one by one, we bade farewell to those players who had given their county a confidence and a validation of their love for gaelic games, as they stepped away from the inter-county game. Here's a few of the men who thrilled us all with their skills and helped inspire a new generation of Red Hand heroes....

ONE of Tyrone’s greatest servants, Brian Dooher, announced his retirement in September 2011, bringing the curtain down on an inter-county career spanning 16 seasons.

During that time, he achieved the rare distinction of captaining two All-Ireland winning teams, raising the Sam Maguire Cup on the steps of the Hogan Stand on September Sundays in 2005 and again in ’08.

Those images have been etched into the folklore, but the Clann na nGael man will be remembered even more fondly for this fearless, relentless commitment to the cause.

The remarkable levels of energy and workrate he brought to his performances in the county colours marked him out as a player imbued with rare and almost superhuman qualities.

His all-action style, tireless endeavour and unflinching commitment made him the heartbeat of the team as he inspired many memorable victories.

And it wasn’t just about unfashionable grafting; Dooher was a footballer of supreme skill and quality, evidenced by the many exquisite scores he executed.

His debut in a National League game against Kildare in 1995 marked the beginning of a long and storied inter-county career.

He won the first of five Ulster titles the following year, and by the end of it all, he had three All-Irelands and three Allstar awards to his name.

It was following the sudden death of Cormac McAnallen in 2004 that Dooher was appointed team captain, proving the perfect choice, and leading the Red Hands to two Sam Maguire Cup triumphs.

In retirement, he continues to influence Tyrone football, and the core of the current senior team is formed of members of the 2015 All-Ireland U21 winning side, managed by Feargal Logan, Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan.

CONOR Gormley’s farewell appearance for Tyrone was a defeat to the neighbours from across the River Blackwater, Armagh.

That was in the summer of 2014, and towards the end of that year, he announced that he would not be returning for a 15th season in the county colours.

That decision, described at the time by the Carrickmore man as one of the most difficult he had ever had to make, marked the latest detachment in the incremental break-up of a very special team.

A no-nonsense defender who proved himself equal to the task of man-marking the game’s top attackers, Gormley was a lynchpin of the Red Hand team throughout the county’s most successful spell.

Consistency and courage were among the many traits of a selfless team player who never failed to deliver on the big occasion.

It was on the biggest day of all that he made a heroic intervention that has passed into legend, effectively sealing Tyrone’s first All-Ireland title.

Steven McDonnell broke through in the dying moments of the 2003 All-Ireland final, and looked certain to net the winning goal for the defending champions, but Gormley’s perfectly timed, impeccably executed block denied the Armagh ace as Tyrone held on for a slender victory.

Conor Gormley left the stage as a giant of the game, taking with him a catalogue of honours, including four Ulster titles, three All-Irelands and three Allstar awards.

STEPHEN O’Neill stunned Tyrone supporters in January 2008 by announcing his retirement at the age of 27.

An attacker of rare talent, the purity of his footballing skills defined a career already rewarded with al the game’s top honours.

But it was merely a temporary absence, for the Clann na nGael man was coaxed back, ahead of the 2008 All-Ireland final.

He came off the bench before half-time to earn a third Celtic Cross, which he refused to accept, as he felt he hadn’t earned it.

O’Neill extended his second stretch as a Tyrone star for a further six seasons, winning a second Allstar award in 2009.

The latter years of his career were blighted by injury, including a troublesome knee tendinitis condition, and he departed the scene for a second and final time in November 2014, his last appearance as a second half substitute in the All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to Armagh in July of that year.

With a list of achievements that included three All-Irelands, five Ulster titles, two National Leagues and three Allstars, not to mention the 2005 Footballer of the Year award, Stephen O’Neill’s legacy endures.

His contribution to Tyrone football did not cease with the end to his playing days, as he returned to pass on valuable tricks of the trade as forwards coach in 2018, a position he held for two seasons.

ANOTHER man who retired twice was Brian McGuigan, a playmaker with extraordinary gifts of vision and creativity, and the architect of three All-Ireland triumphs.

He was a player who could control a game, regulate the pace of even the fiercest of contests, and for more than a decade he was the critical link in Tyrone’s chain of success.

McGuigan twice overcame serious injury setbacks on two occasions to return to the Tyrone colours, a double leg break in 2006 and an eye injury a year later.

After playing central roles in the county’s three All-Ireland triumphs, he retired from inter-county football in November 2011, but returned the following summer, answering the call in the face of an injury crisis.

But an All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to Kerry in Killarney proved to be the Ardboe man’s last Red Hand appearance.

McGuigan first came to prominence as a member of the 1998 All-Ireland MFC winning team, before starring in back to back All-Ireland U21 triumphs in 2000 and ’01.

And Allstar award followed the first of his three Sam Maguire Cup successes in 2003, but he was controversially overlooked by the Allstar selectors in ’05, a season during which his levels of performance touched the sky.

Following a stellar career, Brian McGuigan’s legendary status is assured.

THE last remaining link with Tyrone’s maiden All-Ireland triumph of 2003 was severed when Sean Cavanagh brought the curtain down on a 16-year career in August 2017.

On an emotional afternoon at Croke Park, the Red Hand captain bade his farewells to the fans and to the game following an All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin.

Confirming his retirement on Twitter, he said: “My incredible journey ends. Blessed to have shared the highs and lows of our game with some amazing gaels.”

The five-time Allstar was truly one of gaelic football’s all-time greats, and a central figure in the county’s bold emergence as a proud and powerful force.

Still a teenager and fresh from an All-Ireland MFC success, he made his senior debut in 2002, launching what was to become one of the most influential journeys of the modern GAA era.

A midfield powerhouse who loved to run at defences, a full forward capable of winning games almost single-handedly, Cavanagh had it all, and his leadership qualities saw him captain the Red Hands for four seasons.

With six Ulster titles, three All-Irelands, two NFL crowns, five Allstars and a Footballer of the Year award, he won every honour of the game, and captained Ireland to success in the 2008 International Rules series, a fitting finale to his most memorable season.

Just when he thought it was all over, Cavanagh returned to Croke Park to win another All-Ireland just months after bringing an end to his inter-county career, helping Moy to the Club IFC title in 2018.

He continues to play for his club after more than 20 years in the senior team.

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