1983: The last time Cavan bettered Tyrone in the championship

Jim Reilly and Ciaran McGarvey recall their contrasting memories of the last time Cavan beat Tyrone in championship football

By Niall Gartland

RECORDS are there to be broken and all that but Cavan fans may feel squeamish enough about the prospect of facing Tyrone given their miserly record against the Red Hands over the course of the last four decades.

You have to spool the tape all the way back to 1983 for the last time they bettered Tyrone in championship football – a 0-11 to 0-10 victory on a searing hot day in Breffni Park in the first round of the Ulster Championship.

In the meantime, it’s been one-way traffic as far as results are concerned, barring two drawn encounters in 2005 and 2016 (Tyrone set the record straight in both replays).

We’ve touched base with two fellas who played in the 1983 encounter, Cavan great Jim Reilly and Tyrone’s Ciaran McGarvey, one of the best full-backs that the county has ever produced.

There was no backdoor in those days, no spurious group stages, no nothing, so McGarvey recalls the sense of devastation at the final whistle of an energy-sapping encounter.

“I remember it was one of the most devastating defeats in my entire life, it took me a long time to get that one out of the system.

“We were shaping into a good team, Frank McGuigan was back from America and lined out at centre half-forward. I wouldn’t say they were a great team but we just couldn’t get our noses in front of them, we always seemed to be chasing them.”

Cavan didn’t exactly enjoy a reputable record against Tyrone in those days either. They had lost their six previous meetings stretching back to 1977, and local paper The Anglo Celt acknowledged at the time that they were perhaps fortunate to end their losing streak in 1983 (“the inability of the Tyrone forwards to take their scoring opportunities and kill off Cavan’s lingering hopes fell down badly, and they paid the penalty in the end”).

The sides were level on seven occasions but Tyrone looked the more likely victors when they led 0-10 to 0-9 with 10 minutes left.

Cavan’s saviour on the day was Martin Lynch, who kicked two late frees to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, as recalled by their captain of the time, Jim Reilly.

“Martin Lynch was our free-taker, he scored seven points that day from frees. Not to denigrate him but he was a bit of a one or two-year wonder for us, he probably lacked a bit of pace but he was a good free-taker.

“It was a good win for ourselves. I remember we’d beaten Derry in the preliminary round, I marked Mickey Moran that day, and that win stood to us. We’d a win under our belts and we weren’t coming in cold.”

All ten of Tyrone’s points came from play and Ciaran McGarvey believes the referee, Seamus Murray from Monaghan, didn’t exactly do them any favours that day.

“There was a remarkable statistic from that game, I don’t think we got a free inside the 45-metre line. I remember Art McRory took it up with the ref afterwards, it took a lot of men to hold him back!

“I know it’s easy to blame the referee but it was frustrating, especially as they got quite a few soft ones at the other end.”

All told it was a frustrating experience and Tyrone were left licking their wounds as Cavan marched into the Ulster final with victory over Fermanagh, falling short at the last hurdle with a three-point defeat to Donegal.

McGarvey said: “Cavan had a decent team and reached the Ulster final, and the thing about it was, that we felt there was a pathway there that would’ve taken us to the All-Ireland final.

“Dublin beat Galway in the ’83 final and at that stage we always felt we were on the same level as Connacht football, so we could’ve gone on a good run but listen, it wasn’t to be.”

One of the difference-makers from a Cavan perspective was a future Breffni legend, Stephen King, then in the infancy of his senior intercounty career. King, who captained Cavan to a long-awaited Ulster title in 1997, came on as a sub against Tyrone in 1983 and made a telling difference in the middle sector.

Reilly said: “That would’ve been the start of it for Stephen. He came on in the Ulster final against Donegal as well and nearly won the game for us. Derek McDonnell’s another man worth mentioning, he’d a very good year, he scored 2-5 in the semi-final against Fermanagh.”

Tyrone did, however, come good the following year, winning the Ulster title with victory over Armagh – the famous Frank McGuigan final. McGuigan scored 11 points that day, eight with the left, two with the right and one with the fist. McGarvey says marking McGuigan in training was certainly an experience.

“I’ve told this to a lot of people, marking Frank in training, particularly in 1984 when he was about the full year, was the best footballing education I ever had in my life.

“All the managers and coaches out there could not teach you what I learnt from marking that man night-after-night in training. He’d everything, people don’t realise how strong he was and he’d no weaknesses to his game. It’s just a pity we didn’t get more out of him the way it all worked out.”

Naturally enough, both men are taking a keen interest in Sunday’s showdown between the two counties. Reilly lives in Carlow these days but he’ll travel up to Kingspan Breffni with a fair degree of hope that they can consign their long losing record to the Red Hands to the history books.

“I suppose it’s a sense of hope rather than expectation, but I think it’ll stand to us that we’ve already won a game in this year’s championship.

“It’s not really the Tyrone of old, they’re in a bit of a transitionary period. But at the same time they’re a solid Division One outfit and Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry are two of the best forwards in the country. If they get the supply it could be a long afternoon for us.

“But we’ve been going well really, we claimed victories away from home in the league against Cork, Louth and Kildare, and then the Monaghan result will have been a big boost to the team, I thought it was very well deserved.”

McGarvey, meanwhile, believes that if Tyrone don’t bring their A-game to proceedings, it could mark an early Ulster Championship exit for the Red Hands.

“I know one thing, if we go out on Sunday and we’re not firing on all cylinders, Tyrone will be in for a tough day.

“Breffni Park isn’t an easy place to go to, it was always a difficult place to win in.

“We’d quite a few battles with them and even though they haven’t beaten in Tyrone in the championship in a long time, they haven’t met recently in Breffni and it’s a hard place to go to.

“Cavan have inside knowledge too, with Stephen O’Neill on the line. Cavan was always a county full of very good footballers, they’ve a lot of dangerous players and we’ve really got to start on the right foot this game, we can’t just play ourselves into it, we have to really go for it.”

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