Tyrone Minors aiming to end long wait - but they've had far longer
BY Tyrone’s lofty standards, they’re suffering something of a drought in terms of All-Ireland Minor Football success.
It’s almost 11 years since young Red Hands last lifted the Tom Markham Cup, which would have surprised many observers from back then. When skipper Shea McGarrity did so in 2010 it was the second Tyrone triumph inside three seasons, and the fourth in a decade.
Since then, even Ulster wins have almost dried up, with this year’s impressive campaign the first victorious season since 2012. Yet that run was ended abruptly by Meath in the All-Ireland quarter-final, with the Royals going on to lose again to Dublin in the decider, a repeat of that year’s Leinster Final. Meath are into their first Minor final since then, seeking to end a 29-year wait for Minor glory.
Tyrone did make it through to the following year’s All-Ireland decider, in 2013, having been losing provincial finalists (in a thriller against Monaghan), but they lost another final, to a quality Mayo team.
Yet although Tyrone are fourth on the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship roll of honour, with eight titles to their name behind only Kerry, Cork, and Dublin, they’ve endured much longer waits for a national crown.
Indeed, there have been not one but two quarter-century gaps, making for almost half a century when the Markham Cup resided ‘among the bushes’ for just a single year.
The fact that that particular win came between the completion of a famous back-to-back in 1948 and Tyrone’s own memorable ’98’ may mean that the 1973 Minor victory has been somewhat overshadowed.
Older heads will still shake in wonderment, though, that the group of players coming through in the early Seventies only won a single All-Ireland. Over that decade Tyrone dominated Ulster, winning six provincial minor titles.
Even that solitary All-Ireland was hard-won, coming from a third consecutive tilt on the national stage, after losing in the 1971 All-Ireland semi-final then the 1972 All-Ireland Final.
Cork were the conquerors in ’72, overcoming a much-vaunted Tyrone team, which included a certain Michael Harte of Ballygawley among the forwards. The Ulster champions were favourites going into final, having dispensed Meath by 3-9 to 0-9 in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The Red Hand star was the legendary Frank McGuigan of Ardboe, already on the senior scene, but even his brilliance wasn’t enough to outdo a Rebels team which had another great name in it - Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
JBM netted twice, the second from the penalty spot, as Cork edged to a 3-11 to 2-11 victory. Yet Tyrone supporters will remember the name of Robert Wilmot, whose move from left half-back to midfield, and his surging runs forward in the second half, helped inspire the Rebels to a rather unexpected win.
Tyrone gained their revenge on Cork in 1973, although they so nearly suffered another loss. After tight tussles against Antrim and Derry, the Red Hands had retained Ulster with a more convincing win over Down in the provincial decider.
The rota pitted them against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-finals and the reigning All-Ireland champions appeared to be on course for the big stage again, racking up a six-point half-time lead, 0-7 to 0-1.
The Rebels still led by three going into the last 10 minutes, but Clonoe’s Bosco O’Neill - having travelled back from the USA - scored two fine points and Sean O’Kane of Strabane forced a replay.
That second meeting was won handsomely by Tyrone, 3-10 to 0-10, with all the goals coming from the same household in Augher, two from future Allstar Eugene McKenna and the other from his brother Des, the new captain, with McGuigan too old to be involved.
As Joseph Martin wrote in his history of Tyrone GAA, ‘Victory over Cork paved the way for an All-Ireland victory.’ This year’s representatives will hope that’s an omen after last weekend’s comprehensive demolition of the Rebels in the semi-final.
The 1973 Tyrone team also met the Leinster champions in the All-Ireland Final, but Kildare were no match for them.
Two early goals, from Joe Cunningham of Pomeroy then a Sean O’Kane spot-kick, put the Red Hands in firm control, and Tyrone eased to a 2-11 to 1-6 victory over the Lilywhites.
Tyrone were back in an All-Ireland MFC Final in 1975 but were well-beaten by a strong Kerry side including Jack O’Shea at full-forward and Sean Walsh at midfield, the Kingdom cruising to a 1-10 to 0-4 win.
The Red Hands were to require another five attempts even to reach another All-Ireland MFC Final, losing semi-finals in 1976, 1978, 1988 and 1993 before at last getting there again in 1997, only to lose out to a talented Laois outfit. Of course, after the tragic death of player Paul McGirr during the Ulster Championship, even getting to the national decider was a phenomenal achievement.
So it was another quarter-century wait which was ended by the storied side of 1998, who gained revenge over Laois in some style in the final. Many of that terrific team went on to win at least one senior All-Ireland, with some collecting three.
The current Minors carry a similar attacking flair and panache. Four years to the day since Tyrone won the inaugural All-Ireland U17 Football Championship, this season’s crop will be fancied to win at the same age grade, after the change in 2017, and collect the Markham Cup once again.
All-Ireland Minor Final records:
Winners: 1947, 1948, 1973, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2010
Finalists: 1972, 1975, 1997, 2013
Winners: 1957, 1990, 1992
Finalists: 1977, 1993, 2002, 2012
Tyrone Minors 1973: Barry Campbell (Dromore); Gerry Goodwin (Dungannon), Martin Lennon (Kildress), Hugh Mooney (Edendork); Sean Gormley (Carrickmore), Colm McAleer (Beragh), Justin O'Doherty (Omagh); Patsy Kerlin (Owen Roes), Des McKenna (captain) (Augher); Sean O'Kane (Strabane), Eugene McKenna (Augher), Joe Cunningham (Pomeroy); Michael Quinn (Stewartstown), Bosco O'Neill (Clonoe), Kieran Currie (Edendork).
Substitutes: Pat Scullion (Coalisland), Seamus Coyne (Moy), John McGee (Cookstown), Eugene Devlin (Moortown), Tony Marlowe (Augher), Pat McCluskey (Dungannon).