Philly Jordan: Best of enemies
In the latest of our ‘Best of Enemies' series reflecting on some of the GAA's red hot rivalries on the field, former Tyrone wing-back Philip Jordan tells Neil Loughran about a night he has yet to live down in Croke Park, a day to forget against the Lilywhites and the genius of one of his Tyrone team-mates…
PAUL FLYNN (DUBLIN)
ONE of my mates gives me bad manners about getting roasted by Paul Flynn every weekend.
It’s funny the things you miss in the middle of lockdown - I was actually texting him there recently saying I’d love to be going for a couple of pints, and how I’d even love to hear him slag me about Paul Flynn again.
The game he’s talking about was in 2011 at Croke Park [Dublin won 0-22 to 0-15 in the All-Ireland quarter-final].
I had played against him in a National League match up in Omagh the year before and I remember it because he must’ve won three or four break balls off me; he was just so alert.
In 2011 we had done a load of preparation for Dublin.
We knew what Stephen Cluxton wanted to do, the ball was coming out quick, but mentally Flynn was just so switched on.
There were times we would’ve had a free-kick and I’d have been sitting watching the ball being kicked, where the second the ball left the kicker’s boot I’d have turned around and Flynn would be halfway down the field.
That was his main strength – how mentally astute he was.
He was on top of everything, he could catch the ball at pace when Cluxton was putting it on top of him, you could always count on him to kick a couple of scores and he was a wonderful passer of a ball.
I’d say he’s probably the best all-round footballer I’ve ever come up against, and a fantastic fella on top of it.
You would love to be able to say he’s hateful but he’s actually not.
Even after that game he came to me and said we had set the standard - that’s what Dublin had been aiming for, and that’s why they were fit to put in that performance.
He didn’t have to do that, but it was appreciated.
That turned out to be my last game for Tyrone but, despite the slagging I get, Paul didn’t retire me.
I had decided after a League match against Kildare in Dungannon back in April of that year - I had told Mickey I was retiring but he told me not to announce it until I’d taken a couple of weeks to think about it, and I ended up coming back.
That said, if I hadn’t already decided that was it, I probably would have after that night.
JAMES KAVANAGH (KILDARE)
I ONLY marked him once, in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final. We ended up winning, but it was probably the worst game I had for Tyrone; certainly at Croke Park.
Kieran McGeeney obviously knew my game well and had clearly given Kavanagh clear instructions not to let me get forward.
Any time Kildare got the ball he was in my face, hand on my chest… nothing illegal, but he was basically just man-marking me.
When you’re playing, you want to get involved in the game and when you’re struggling to get involved from an attacking point of view, mentally it makes it very hard to concentrate on the defensive side of the game.
You can get distracted from your man-marking job.
My game was to be a defender and see what you can do beyond that, and I always tried to time my run to get into space.
But to have somebody basically man-marking you as a defender, there’s nothing you can really do to get yourself involved in the game.
Joe Diver did the same to me [when Derry defeated Tyrone in the 2006 Ulster Championship], but the difference with Kavanagh was that, when Kildare got the ball, his pace caused me a lot of problems.
He kicked a point and set up a goal; from a defensive point of view I couldn’t handle him at all.
James Kavanagh mightn’t be a name people would pick out, he would’ve been seen as a decent player, but the way he played me was something I struggled with badly.
I wouldn’t have been the sort of player who was going into any match full of confidence as such.
I didn’t doubt myself but I couldn’t make the starting team in minors, I had to battle to get on the U21s, and then same with the senior team - I always sort of felt that maybe people thought I was better than what I was.
That gave me a bit of a chip on my shoulder, but there was always that wee doubt in my head that I might struggle against this player or that player.
I probably wasn’t prepared for what Kavanagh might bring that day, for what McGeeney had planned, and he caught me off guard.
STEPHEN O’NEILL (TYRONE)
THERE’S a common theme here in these boys of things I don’t like – they’re physical and they’ve got pace.
I first came up against Stevie in colleges’ football - for Queen’s in a Sigerson Cup match in 2000 and then for Jordanstown in a Ryan Cup match when he was at St Mary’s.
He was from Tyrone and we’d played minors together, so I knew a lot about him already.
I had only broken onto the Queen’s team at the time, there was a load of established county men around me, and my biggest concern was that nobody else was aware just how good Stevie was.
I knew he was a star but none of the rest of them really knew much about him.
My sole objective from the throw-in was to try and not get roasted; I managed to do okay against him that first day with Queen’s, he pulled his hamstring with about 10 minutes to go, which I wasn’t too upset about.
In the Ryan Cup match, Damian Barton was over Jordanstown at the time and Enda McGinley suggested I should go back into the full-back line to mark Stevie, which was generous of him.
It was a horrible day, the rain was tipping down so it was a day for defending, but if you came up against Stevie on a dry day and a dry ball… he still scored a point from the sideline that day with his right foot.
Stevie became known for coming out of the full-forward line, winning the ball and kicking ridiculous points but his game really was as a half-forward at the start; that’s where Mickey would’ve played him in 2003 until he picked up a shoulder injury.
He had pace to burn and was so good at carrying the ball… he could just leave you for dead.
From a half-back point of view, I always liked being up against a man who laid the ball off – somebody taking you on was grand, but when they had pace as well that’s when it became really tough.
Add in Stevie’s all-round strength and you have a combination that was a nightmare to play against.
He was one of those forwards too who was willing to shoot from anywhere – a lot of the time you know a player’s not going to take a shot on, but because Stevie could and would, you had to get in close to him.
If you got too close he had the pace to go past you, and because he was pure strength, you just couldn’t push him off the ball.
Stevie had everything you’d want in a forward – he ticked every box. If he was getting a good supply of ball, there was very little you could do to handle him.