By Alan Rodgers
SUCCESS in the Dr Lagan Cup competition in 1942 provided a fresh impetus to the fortunes of the Tyrone senior team, which enjoyed steady progress during the early 1940s.
They reached the Ulster final for the first time in 1941, also played in the Dr McKenna Cup final and enjoyed a number of notable victories in the Ulster Championship.
One of the most significant came against Donegal in the first round of the 1943 race for the Anglo Celt Cup.
At the time, the Christian Brothers Park in Omagh was a popular venue for the major inter-county and club matches. There was a good attendance at a game which took place almost exactly 80 years ago, on Sunday June 20.
The Red Hand team on that occasion comprised a host of well-known names. It was captained by Paddy Donnelly from Trillick, Gerry Rice from Clogher was the star man in the 1-8 to 0-7 win and the side also included players from the main clubs at the time such as Moortown, Carrickmore and Dungannon.
The UlsterHerald of the following week recounted how owing to the adverse conditions, the play deteriorated in the second half, but that Tyrone at all times seemed to have the situation well in hand.
“A sound defence and a slight advantage at midfield were the deciding factors in Tyrone’s favour, the result being that their forwards were more generously supplied with scoring opportunities,” the report of the game stated.
“The close nature of the scoring throughout maintained interest to the finish, while the fact that Tyrone led all the way gave their followers no grounds for uneasiness.”
That was perhaps entirely understandable because this was a Red Hand team which had proven its work during the previous two years.
In 1941, the county contested both the McKenna Cup final and the Ulster final and it is fortunate that photographs survive of the team from that year.
The provincial decider of that year represented a particularly noteworthy achievement. It was their first appearance in the final since 1934 and, as was the custom in those years, the team went into collective training for the decider against who else but Cavan.
In his book, The GAA in Tyrone, historian Joe Martin relates the level of effort which went into preparing for the big game.
“Using Troddens’ Hotel in Lower Irish Street as a base, they trained morning and evening on the St Patrick’s College playing fields. Their efforts were not rewarded with the success which they deserved,” he states.
“When the great day came on August 3, they were dealt a stunning blow. Their brilliant inter-provincial player, Peter Campbell (Coalisland) had to withdraw from the team at the last moment due to the sudden death of his father on the morning of the game and what promised to be the dawn of a new era for Tyrone turning into a nightmare.”
Cavan defeated them comprehensively in the final, but an interesting aside relates to Peter Campbell’s replacement at midfield for the 1941 final. That player was Pearse, or PP, O’Connor, from Tullyallen in the parish of Killeeshi. He was a nephew of Dr Patrick McCartan from Carrickmore and was named Padraig Pearse or PP.
The 1942 Lagan Cup triumph was the first ever at senior inter-county level for Tyrone, so there was understandable optimism when they played Donegal in the provincial championship the following year.
However, as so often happened in those years, the mighty Cavan would prove to be a bridge too far.
After their win over Donegal, they lost out to the Breffni men by 4-10 to 1-4, and the momentum of those years was not maintained for the remainder of the decade.
However, as yet another championship meeting against the north-west neighbours beckons on Saturday evening, there will be hopes that the result of exactly 80 years ago can be repeated as Tyrone bid to reach the later stages of the 2023 championship.