By Ronan Scott
IN 2006, Tyrone were the defending All-Ireland champions. The previous season they had defeated Kerry in the final to win their second Sam Maguire title.
They had did so after losing the Ulster final to Armagh, but had went on a thrilling run through the backdoor, which culminated in that great win.
So at the start of 2006, everyone regarded Tyrone as one of the front-runners for the Sam Maguire title.
Their opponents in the first round of the Ulster Championship were Derry, who had not won a provincial title since 1998, and had lost to Armagh in the Ulster semi-final in 2005.
However, Derry manager Paddy Crozier had a plan for Tyrone. It involved a number of elements. The first was to focus his players minds on beating their rivals, to whip them into a frenzy in the days leading up to that game.
He also had to get his match-ups right. He identified Sean Cavanagh as a key player who had to be stopped. Brian Dooher was also a target for Derry as he was the engine that the Red Hands used to out-run their opponents.
There was also the element of surprise, and that came in the form of the introduction of new players that Tyrone would not be familiar with. One of those was Joe O’Kane, one was Liam Hinphey and another was the big Bellaghy midfielder Joe Diver.
In the lead up to the match Diver recalls that the atmosphere reached frenzied levels.
“It was one of those games that you prepare for all season,” he said.
Even at winter training we were focused on Tyrone.”
Match-ups were important, and one of the big ones was the unknown quantity of Hinphey marking Cavanagh.
“Liam was a disruptive defender. His role was to put him off his stride. Liam is incredibly frustrating to play against. He would batter you in training. He is so competitive. We just knew he would annoy the life out of Cavanagh. I always hated Liam marking me in training.
“Sean Cavanagh was right footed and he had that famous dummy. For weeks leading up into that game Liam Hinphey marked Mark Lynch, and Lynch was told to practice the Sean Cavanagh dummy so that Liam wouldn’t get sold by it.
“Details like that made us really well prepared.”
O’Kane was assigned to mark Dooher for very specific reasons.
“Joe was extremely fit. People don’t realise how fit he was. Dooher had a reputation for being fit too, he had a huge running game. Joe O’Kane was fit to match him and then some. He was fit to run the whole game.”
One of the tactics that Crozier wanted to employ was the quick start. He knew that it was important to put Tyrone on the back foot early on. That meant that Derry had to start the game on a high intensity, but he also wanted to surprise Tyrone.
“He knew the psychology of the Tyrone team. They were an incredible team, but he knew that they would be over-confident. So the winning of that game was about shock value. He knew that if we hit them early then they would be shocked.”
Playing Diver in his championship debut was part of that surprise.
“I was new. Crozier said to me, ‘these boys won’t know who you are. They won’t realise your attributes.’
“So I think they were taken aback by me.
“I actually started marking Collie Holmes. Tyrone probably thought that Fergal Doherty would be starting in the middle but he started at half-forward. That threw them a wee bit.
“Crozier just wanted to win the throw-in. It sounds like a small thing, but he wanted to get the start. He wanted us to be going full steam ahead from the start.
“We won the throw-in and took it from there.
“We were highly charged that day. I think they were taken aback by the speed of the game and the intensity of it. We knew we had to go for it from the off.
“It has happened to me in games, when you are favourites, and they surprise you it is hard to get over that. If you don’t have that intensity it is hard to change that round.”
Diver was moved onto Philip Jordan later in the game. That had been the initial plan.
“I was supposed to put him on the back foot. I was a fast and powerful runner.
“Philip was renowned for his attacking prowess from the half-back line. My job was to put him on the back foot. I was to run at him.
“I had the aerial advantage over him as well. He was a dangerman for them and I had to put him on the back foot.”
Derry needed a steady hand though, and that was Johnny McBride.
“He controlled things. He led the middle of the park. He was pulling the strings, telling people where to go, making really sensible passes. He had that experience of playing at a high level.”
For Derry the first half went perfectly and they held Tyrone to no score. Kevin Hughes was sent off on a red card 17 minutes in, and the Red Hands didn’t recover. They were down by 0-6 to no score at the start of the second half. The intensity had worked.
Adding to that intensity was the presence of Eamonn Coleman who came in to speak to the players.
“He came in at half time and he was emotional.”
Then in the second half Tyrone battled back into the game and got a couple of scores on the board, but Enda Muldoon’s goal put Derry ahead 1-8 to 0-2. Paddy Bradley beat Ryan McMenamin, fed Barry McGoldrick who set up Muldoon.
“Scoring that goal was about composure,” Diver continued.
“It would have been easy for him to blast it at the goalkeeper. But he just tapped it past the ’keeper.”
And from there Derry just cruised to win.
“I do think that we had the confidence that day that we didn’t think we were going to be beat. We were so confident. I looked at their team and our team and I thought to myself that we were as good if not better than them.
“I remember after the game thinking ‘what happened?’ It went so fast. It was a privilege and an honour to experience it all.”