The one that got away

IT’S enough to make a Tyrone supporter retch. Charlie Redmond refusing to leave the pitch, Sean McLaughlin’s disallowed equalising point, and a chance of an inaugural All-Ireland title tossed in the bin.

The 1995 final between Tyrone and Dublin – what a nightmare, what an absolute bloody nightmare, and the only reason we’ve decided to broach the subject in the first place is that last week marked its 25th anniversary.

It was with some reluctance therefore that I reached out to three members of that Tyrone team for a chat about the match, and while they were only too obliging, it was obvious that the outcome still sticks in the craw.

Ronan McGarrity says the harsh reality is that he’s an “All-Ireland loser”, Jody Gormley has purposely avoided viewing a replay of the game because he doesn’t “see the point”, and Sean McLaughlin, the man who could’ve been hero, laments that they didn’t go hell for leather from start-to-finish.

But let’s back-track for a second and consider Tyrone’s All-Ireland Championship campaign in the round.

Under the astute stewardship of Art McRory and Eugene McKenna, they embarked on an unforgettable run to only their second All-Ireland final in the county’s history.

Tyrone’s Ulster Championship semi-final win over Derry has passed into folklore. They won their first provincial title since 1989, and (if he hadn’t already) Peter Canavan announced himself as a once-in-a-generation talent with a series of man-of-the-match displays culminating in a 11-point salvo in the final itself.

Jody Gormley, the only Tyrone player bar Canavan to score in their All-Ireland final defeat, has fond memories of the rest of their campaign.

It was such a glorious summer and we trained at St Pat’s secondary school at Dungannon. The training was tough but very enjoyable. We had a good squad and everybody got on well together which was a big factor in how well we did. We’d beaten Derry in the Ulster semi-final and that was a big thing for us. There was a real good mood in the camp.”

Ronan McGarrity was one of five Carrickmore players on the squad – the others being Seamus McCallan, Kieran Loughran, Damien Loughran and Brian Gormley – but he recalls that the build-up to the final wasn’t too manic.

It was a massive deal for the club and a massive deal for the county,” said McGarrity,

Within Carrickmore there was a really positive vibe, and there was a novelty attached to it. The players were basically all teenagers the last time we got to the final, but Art McRory in particular is a very level-headed person and advised us all to keep a lid on it. I don’t know if the result was impacted by the hype in the county but it was certainly very exciting.”

Unprompted, all three men cite a major stroke of bad luck in the lead-up to the final.

Adrian Cush, who had a fantastic cameo against Galway in the semi-final, went over on his ankle in a training session less than a week before the final, and it robbed Tyrone of a serious attacking option on the day.

McGarrity said: “Cushy was absolutely superb and at u-21 level was spoken about in the same breath as Canavan. He was a monumental loss to us but I wouldn’t want to use that as an excuse.”

On the same subject, Gormley commented: “One of my main memories funnily enough was the fact Adrian Cush got injured.

It sticks out because Cushy was our ace card; he’d done so well in a couple of games and was a super footballer.

I think if we were able to bring him on in the final it would’ve got us over the line.”

And then for the game itself. Sunday, September 17, 1995.

Croke Park was packed to the rafters, the noise was deafening and there was a serious amount at stake – Dublin had lost the 1992 and 1994 finals and all talk was that they ‘needed’ this All-Ireland, while Tyrone were aiming to lift Sam Maguire for the first time in their history.

Nervous energy isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, but Drumquin man McLaughlin felt that they were too uptight as they went through the pre-match rituals.

I think it was the worst game we played all year, and it was down to a lot of things incluing our preparation. There was no one person to blame, everyone got it wrong, I can remember parading around the pitch, I thought we were very tense and nervous. A lot of us just didn’t perform on the day.

If you could do it again you’d definitely do it differently and go at it 100 percent from start-to-finish.”

Gormley doesn’t agree with McLaughlin’s assessment that they fell prey to nerves, however. Running out on Croke Park on All-Ireland final day was everything he ever wanted as a footballer, so excitement rather than trepidation was his main emotion.

Everyone has their own memories but I don’t think we were overly nervous.

We didn’t play as well as we could but Dublin didn’t play particularly well either.

I remember running out on the pitch and the wall of noise, It was probably one of the last years before they redeveloped Croke Park and we came out through the tunnel at the corner of the Canal End and the Hogan Stand.

I remember the excitement and the wall of noise. I grew up watching the great battles Kerry and Dublin had in the ‘70s.

It was like a dream come true to get playing in an All-Ireland but, unfortunately, it turned into a nightmare at the end of the game.”

Gormley was critical of his own personal performance on the day, but he was hardly the only player who didn’t deliver a five-star performance.

I got a score early on but I thought I could’ve got another.

I was free inside and didn’t get the pass.

It’s just one of those things, the game went by very quickly. The pace was on another level to anything I’d ever played in before.

I’m 49 now and it’s good to say that I played in an All-Ireland final but it’s a bittersweet memory at the same time.”

Tyrone actually started strongly on the day as Canavan tapped over a few early frees, but their momentum waned and they trailed 1-8 to 0-6 at half-time after Redmond bungled the ball over the line (The Ulster Herald’s match report bemoaned that “the ultimate tragedy for Tyrone was that the inherent vulnerability of Dublin’s full-back line of Moran, Walsh and Keith Barr, so clearly manifested in those opening minutes, was not exploited to the full for the remainder of the match.”)

Art McRory and Eugene McKenna weren’t immune from their share of criticism after the match – Tyrone didn’t take full advantage of Charlie Redmond’s controversial sending off, and only when Paul Donnelly was introduced with 10 minutes to go did the Red Hands really play with the requisite urgency, but McLaughlin says that the players ultimately have to take the blame.

I’d have loved nothing more than to win an All-Ireland with Art McRory as my manager. He was one of the soundest men you could ever meet and he always rewarded you if you did the training and that’s what I liked about him.

The players have to take responsibility but I suppose there were things we could’ve done differently.

Paul Devlin was left as the spare man when Redmond went off, but maybe it should’ve been someone like me as I liked to run the ball from the half-back line and get a score or two.

The communication wasn’t great between the management and the players on the day, I don’t know why that was, maybe it was the noise.

In general we really struggled to penetrate their defence. It helped when Donnelly came on but we really missed Cush badly. He’d been flying in training before his ankle injury. We just lacked that bit extra up front.”

The Red Hands threw the kitchen sink at it in a frantic finish to proceedings. Canavan showed unbelievable technique (not to mention composure) when pointing two 50-metre frees with the outside of his boot as the game entered injury time, but then came the moment that weighed heavily on Tyrone football for a long, long time.

With the ball bobbling towards an off-balance Canavan (and we’re going to argue that it was still bobbling when he connected with it), he showed remarkable quick-thinking to flick the ball towards Sean McLaughlin, who was convinced he’d secured a draw when he subsequently split the posts.

To this day he’s convinced that Paddy Russell made the wrong decision when he adjudged Canavan to have picked the ball off the ground, and he blew for the full-time whistle literally seconds later.

McLaughlin said: “We all know that the referee didn’t have a good game. I remember getting the score and running back up the field elated that we got a chance to have another go at it, but he blew for a foul.

The Dublin crowd were on the pitch a split-second later and that was it. It’s the one piece of advice I’d give to any fella who gets to a final – when you’re there you have to make the most of it. In fairness Mickey Harte had some really strong characters playing for him and they didn’t make the same mistakes we did.”

Ronan McGarrity, meanwhile, wonders whether Russell would’ve reached for the whistle had it happened down the other end of the pitch.

It was a shattering defeat and I never watched it until last year, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

There were a couple of incidents in particular that were obviously hard to take. It was shocking that Redmond didn’t go off but I don’t use it as an excuse.

Then with Sean’s point at the end, I was convinced that the ball was off the ground when Peter flicked it on.

It was harsh and that’s not sour grapes because Dublin were slightly better than us on the day, but at the same time if Dublin were a point down and scored a point into Hill 16, it’d take a lot to convince me that the point wouldn’t have been awarded.

It was a bitter one to swallow, it was complete devastation after the match. Playing the match was an amazing experience but the outcome was gut-wrenching and it still is.”

Gormley is a bit more philosophical about how it all panned out and says he has avoided any reruns of the match on TG4 and Setanta.

I’ve no interest in watching it again. I don’t think there’s anything there to be learned or gained from watching it. We were there, we didn’t win, and that’s it.

Initially I think the disappointment was so deep that it was like we were in a cloud, I didn’t really dwell on any individual incidents during the game but we all thought 1995 was going to be our year especially after our win over Derry and it just wasn’t to be.

I personally felt we had a lot of improving to do but we all know what happened against Meath the following year and that probably took more out of us.”

If there’s a silver-lining to all this, it’s that Tyrone undoubtedly learnt from their chastening experiences in the mid-90s.

The new breed that came along in the following years were determined not to be bullied around Croke Park, so in that sense it helped lay a platform for their three All-Ireland successes in the ‘noughties’.

McGarrity said: “I suppose everyone in Tyrone football learnt some harsh lessons and the Meath defeat basically led to the break-up of the team. There were a lot of mental scars there.

Maybe Mickey’s teams learnt from it. They were hardened to expect what was going to happen, and maybe our team wasn’t street-wise enough. “

By Niall Gartland 

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