Lynette Fay: Reliving the memories of 2003 and Tyrone's first All-Ireland win

Twenty years ago, who in Tyrone could have imagined that the county's footballers would go on to win one, never mind four, All-Ireland titles?

All-Ireland winning captain Peter Canavan is carried across the Croke Park pitch by Tyrone supporters after the 2003 final
Lynette Fay

Life begins at 40, isn't that what we are told? I have found that to be true, but what no-one told me is that time passes in a flash when we reach our fifth decade. Blink and five years have passed.

Every year, as an anniversary approaches or is celebrated, I find it harder and harder to believe that the particular events that were 10, even 20 years ago. This happens most days when I decide to play a banging retro tune on my radio show and realise how old it is.

Later this month, September 28, 20 years ago, Tyrone won the All-Ireland football final for the first time. How can it be 20 years since Peter Canavan held aloft one of the most coveted pieces of silverware in Irish sport and declared that it was time to bring Sam back to Tyrone?

A few weeks ago, I was asked to contribute to a BBC Gaeilge radio show celebrating the golden year of 2003. These days, I find it difficult to remember what I did yesterday, never mind 20 years ago.

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It was the time before camera phones; I have no photos of the build up to the All-Ireland final in 2003, or of the match itself. I have nothing but memories.

It was the first time that two counties from the same province had contested the final, and the fact that Tyrone and Armagh are neighbouring counties meant that the healthy rivalry was elevated. The craic was good within our family too because there was a lot of focus on the Moy – where my late grandparents lived at the time.

A week before the final, the 'Taxi for Maguire' made its first appearance. Thankfully, it has had occasion to be rolled out a few times since.


The 'Taxi for Maguire' made its first appearance before the Tyrone v Armagh final All-Ireland final 20 years ago – it's been rolled out a few times since... Picture by Hugh Russell


I remember producing a radio outside broadcast in The Auction Rooms – owned by Tyrone footballer Philly Jordan's family at the time – and Mummy arrived in to model her Armagh jersey and the place went into uproar. It was great craic.

One of my favourite bands, Hothouse Flowers, played in The Ryandale and all anyone could talk about was football. Would Armagh win two in a row, or would the Red Hands stop them?

It's easy to be confident in hindsight, knowing that we did win in the end, but there was a very strong belief at the time that this group of footballers could do it, and finish out the work started by the teams of '86 and '95.

Former Tyrone footballer and All-Ireland medallist Mark Harte also contributed to the radio programme, Na Blianta Órga. It was fascinating to hear him recollect what went on from inside the camp.

While we were experiencing the hype and excitement on the outside, the team were focused on the job in hand. This was a band of brothers, most of whom had come up through the ranks of minor and U21 football together, and with Mickey Harte as their manager throughout, they had self-belief in their ability as a team to win the biggest prize of all. No more going to Croke Park to come home as runners up.

Mark spoke eloquently about Peter the Great. Full of respect for the man, his talent and his leadership. We all had goosebumps listening back to that speech again: "I can't think of a better position or a better place to be in than where I'm standing."

Footage of that speech, the white and red pitch invasion and Conor Gormley's crucial block will be shared on socials over the next few days as we remember what a day that was.

There is lift in the community, a rise in spirits in the run up to a huge event like an All-Ireland final that everyone can get behind. And then when the win comes, there is nothing like it. It is an amazing thing to be part of.

Twenty years ago, what Tyrone person could have imagined that the county's footballers would go on to win one, never mind three further All-Ireland titles? Tyrone supporters now have the audacity to almost expect to be heading to Croke Park for the first weekend in August (now July) for the quarter finals. We can even (sometimes) magnanimously stretch to supporting Derry and Armagh when they're doing well, as it will take them a while to catch up with us.

So here's to remembering the glory days of 2003, everything that came after and believe that there are many more great days to come.