A SURPRISE appearance by a young Dungannon team against a Trillick team which had proved its worth through numerous championship successes is the familiar sounding background to the last meeting between these clubs in the County Final.
Memories of that year’s first All-Ireland Final for Tyrone were very fresh in the memory when a capacity attendance packed into Plunkett Park in Pomeroy. It was an O’Neill showpiece staged just one week after the Sam Maguire showdown and the standard of football once again didn’t disappoint.
The Clarkes were in their first final in 30 years, and hoping to bridge that gap back to 1956 and their last title. In contrast, many of the Trillick players were chasing their fifth county medal in just 12 years, following on from the 1974, 1975, 1980 and 1983 successes.
Both teams had enjoyed good runs to the final. The Clarkes opened with a narrow 0-7 to 0-6 win over Omagh, before ousting Ballygawley after a replay. Their semi-final triumph was a clear-cut one, defeating Moortown by 4-14 to 3-5.
Trillick were no less impressive on their way to the decider. A victory over Dromore by 2-12 to 1-1 was followed by a narrower 1-8 to 1-6 defeat of Moy in the quarter final, before they ousted Gortin by 2-9 to 1-5.
That set the scene for a final clash which understandably captured the imagination and built on the feelgood factor associated with Tyrone’s progress to the All-Ireland Final. Even with the defeat to Kerry on that long-watched day in September 1986, the crowds still flocked to Dungannon the following Sunday.
The final itself might not have fulfilled all expectations, but Dungannon’s hopes of causing an upset ensured an enthralling contest overall. A 0-8 each draw was the result, as both teams looked towards missed scoring opportunities towards the end.
But it was the Clarkes who had to battle back from a disastrous start. They trailed by 0-5 to 0-1 at half-time, the first half appearing to confirm Trillick’s status as favourites.
Things changed dramatically though in a second half slightly delayed by the introduction of the Tyrone players to the crowd at half-time.
Once play did finally get underway, the Clarkes display a far greater degree of determination. Jody Kelly’s point brought them level nine minutes from the finish, and they held out for the draw despite Ray Cassidy missing late on for Trillick.
A young player on duty that day in his first County Final was Iggy Gallagher and he remembers well the attitude of the Reds to that game.
“It’s a long time ago now and my first County Final. The whole focus at that time was on Tyrone’s first All-Ireland Final appearance and our preparation would have involved playing in Tournaments here, there and everywhere,” he recalled.
“We weren’t wrapped up in cotton wool for six weeks waiting for the final. About half of that Trillick team had played in all the previous finals going back to 1974. Pat King was 39 at the time and 40 in 1987 when we lost the final to Ardboe, so that was an age difference of 20 years between him and me.
“The team was nicknamed ‘Dad’s Army’ at that time. About 12 or 13 of that team would all have been older than the eldest on the team now. I remember John Donnelly realising that we needed to improve substantially to beat Dungannon and the training was geared towards that. One of the benefits between the semi-final and final was that we had time to make those preparations and John had the experience to know not to take any team for granted.
“One of the things about that game was that Sean Donnelly was unable to play in the All-Ireland Final due to injury. But the extra week helped him to play for the club in the next five successive weekends. The All-Ireland came a week or two too early for him.
“Every single match is won on its own merits and I suppose, while we were unbeaten in finals up until 1986, the following year’s final was lost. Rolls of Honour are only something that you look back on in hindsight.”
For Trillick, the replay brought that O’Neill Cup success under the captaincy of Liam Donnelly on a score of 1-10 to 2-5. They led by 0-7 to 1-2 at half-time in the second instalment a week later, before Iggy Gallagher scored the vital goal just three minutes into the second half. They led by 1-9 to 1-5 entering the final quarter and held out, despite Brian Barker’s goal for Dungannon reducing the deficit to the minimum margin for the closing stages.
“There was probably less razzmatazz for replays at that time and in many ways it was just another game. That was to be my only county senior medal, but I was fortunate to have come in at that time,” added Iggy Gallagher.
“I came in at the end of a fantastic group who gave such great service to the club.”
“In subsequent years we weren’t good enough although we ran Errigal close in the 1993 semi-final. I finished playing in 2005. The oldest player I played with was Pat King, and the youngest was Mattie Donnelly.”
For Dungannon, the disappointment of that defeat denied them a ninth O’Neill Cup title. They’re still searching for it, but at least the team captain on that occasion has lost his position as the last man to skipper the Clarkes in a county final.
“That’s another good thing about the progress of the current team is that curse has been lifted from me,” Terry Loughran, who was then a 24 year-old, recalls.
“There was a lot of excitement around the county at that time. But that game is a sort of a nightmare that I’d rather forget.
“Getting there for the first time in 30 years and not getting across the line was a big disappointment. But being a young 24 year-old at that time and with a young team around me, we felt that another year would come. Yet, here we are 34 years on.
“We had a big momentum going into that final and maybe Tyrone’s success in 1986 in a funny sort of way contributed to our defeat because we lost that flow somewhat. Our semi-final against Moortown was in August and the county final was usually played a few weeks later.
“But because of Tyrone doing so well and then the draw in the first match, the flow was interrupted.”
Terry Loughran attributes much of the success of that team to the build-up work carried out by Iggy Jones and Bertie Foley in coaching the young players who enjoyed numerous youth triumphs in the years preceding 1986.
“Our performance against Moortown in the semi-final when we scored 4-14 is one that I’ll always remember,” he added.
“We had won Minor and U-21 titles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Most of those boys would have been all in the primary school with the great Iggy Jones and Bertie Foley. There was a good nucleus of players and the fact of being led by the likes of Iggy was great. Those are things that you believed in, loved and drove you on to try and win the O’Neill Cup.
“That 1986 final just wasn’t our day, but small margins can make a big difference.”
Now, in 2020, the stage is set for the second senior final instalment between these two great clubs.