From the archive: Tyrone edge thrilling Ulster final in 2001

From the archive

"There is always supreme optimism among Cavan’s dedicated fans, whether in victory or adversity,” reckoned Eamonn Gaffney in the Anglo-Celt, which published a 16-page supplement to mark the occasion, on the week of the 2001 Ulster final.

Cavan had returned to the big day with wins over Down and Monaghan but were going in as underdogs against a formidable Tyrone side. However, there was plenty of confidence among the Breffni supporters.

“There is real cause for optimism that the tables can be turned from that 1995 defeat by Tyrone in the Breifne county’s favour and there are grounds for believing that there is justification for such confidence,” wrote Gaffney.

“The competition is never easy in Ulster, irrespective of the level in standards, which according to pundits like Pat Spillane, is relatively poor.

“Both sides have quality players and potential match-winners. For Cavan, the attack has the ability to turn the tide. Players of the calibre of Mickey Graham, Jason O’Reilly and Larry Reilly with the support of team captain Peter Reilly and debutante appearances in the final for adjoining parish clubs, Paul Galligan (Ballinagh) and Finbar O’Reilly (Lacken) can turn the tide in Cavan’s favour and that seems to be the opinion of the thousands of Cavan fans.

“The only doubt is can the forwards produce a match-winning performance when it is needed most or is the team destined to struggle with periods of inaccuracy which could have cost them victory against Down and Monaghan when they recorded a total of 32 wides.

“In the cauldron of battle, it will be the vast experience of Cavan’s midfield star Dermot McCabe and the steadying influence of Anthony Forde at centre half-back which will also have a vital bearing on the outcome.

“There is no hiding place for a defence in a game of such vital importance. In this regard, the younger members of the team including goalkeeper Aaron Donohoe, Rory Donohoe, Thomas Prior, Michael Brides, Edward Jackson, Anthony Forde and in midfield, Barry McCrudden, it will be a real test of their resolve.”

Elsewhere on these pages, future GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail, then Ulster Council PRO, penned his own piece, concluding:

“There will be close to 40,000 at the game and over 2 million viewers watching live on BBC and RTE. The game will be relayed live to over 2000 bars/pavilions worldwide via satellite and many more will watch the final live on the internet. Nine radio stations will carry the game live. If you miss it, no excuses.

“Life will continue as normal next Monday but a Cavan victory would lighten all our steps.”

The national press, however, were unanimous in tipping Tyrone.

“Cavan will rise to the challenge but will have to get awful lucky to beat Tyrone,” reckoned Martin Breheny in the Irish Independent.

“Dermot McCabe, who has revisited the peaks of 1997, will win plenty of ball around the middle for Cavan but the attack simply doesn’t look good enough to out-wit the Tyrone defence often enough to rack up a match-winning total.”

Breheny reported that Cavan manager Val Andrews had given his team, who had been very wasteful in earlier matches, an “interesting target”: “Take even half your chances and you’ll score around 22 points.”

On the morning of the game, an interview with Cavan captain Peter Reilly appeared in the Sunday Independent.

“Reilly does not go in for the emotive type of pre-match speech. His words in the Clones changing rooms before leading his team out will be short and to the point,” wrote Terry McLaughlin.

“’We owe nothing to anybody. We only owe to ourselves.’”

Colm O’Rourke, meanwhile, reckoned Cavan’s leopards wouldn’t "get stripes instead of spots". He was clearly bristling after Andrews publicly rebuked his TV analysis (“It will be very interesting to see whether Cavan just riddle the messenger or set about correcting their faults over the last couple of weeks”).

“Cavan’s best chance would appear to be to give Tyrone an early mugging in the shape of a couple of goals and hope that the young Tyrone players believe so much in their own publicity that they are totally shell-shocked and cannot recover. It’s hard to see that happening as men like McAnallen, McCrossan, Teague and O’Neill seem to have the right attitude and are better players than Cavan have,” O’Rourke wrote.

In the end, the sides played out a brilliant final but Cavan came up short. Tyrone scored the first two points of the contest but Cavan settled and with 15 minutes played, it was 0-3 apiece.

Tyrone then landed the first goal of the game when Brian Dooher found Owen Mulligan and he squared the ball for McAnallen to punch to the net.

But Cavan’s response was excellent as ‘Jayo’ burned off Chris Lawn and found the net. At the other end, Ger Cavlan hit the crossbar but Cavan turned on the style just before the break; a clever point from Jason O’Reilly was followed by a terrific score from the right wing by Anthony Forde and then, from “an impossible angle”, Galligan curled in the best point of the day to send Cavan in 1-8 to 1-5 ahead at the short whistle.

“The place erupted. Cavan dashed for the dressing room like men possessed, waving their fists and straining at the leash,” noted Cliona Foley in the Independent.

The Tyrone joint managers Art McRory and Eugene McKenna made a number of sage switches. Cavlan went to the 40, Pascal Canavan dropped back to sweep and Collie Holmes went to full-back.

Cavan shot four of their seven second-half wides in the first dozen minutes after the restart as Tyrone pulled level with scores from Cavlan and Stephen O’Neill.

McAnallen and Kevin Hughes began to get a grip at midfield, where McCabe and McCrudden had been dominant, and the introduction of Brian McGuigan and Eoin Gormley gave the Red Hands the impetus to kick on.

“The first 10 minutes of the contest had gone some way to further perpetuating the myth of the yawning gap in class that was supposed to exist between Tyrone and Cavan,” opined Des Fahy in the Irish Times.

“But after that as Cavan got first a foothold and then a firm grip on proceedings, reality began to bite. For all Tyrone's creativity and inventiveness there was a palpable sense that had the first half gone on for another 10 minutes Cavan might well have been out of sight.

"As it was, the authoritative and impressive summer of management that Art McRory and Eugene McKenna have put in continued with some tactical tinkering at the start of the second half. Holes were plugged in what had begun to look like a perilously porous defence and Cavan failed to score from play for the rest of the contest.

“Cavan lost no dignity in defeat and while they continue to be dogged by chronic wastefulness their excitable forward line could cause problems for a flat-footed and unprepared defence in the qualifiers. For now, though, they will plough a different furrow while Tyrone move forward to a do-or-die All-Ireland quarter-final.”

Said Cliona Foley: “The unbackable favourites had it put right up to them by a superb Cavan performance in a thrilling, mile-a-minute final which truly lived up to the occasion.”

Cavan went on to lose to Derry in the qualifiers; Tyrone fell victim to the same opponents in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Cavan: A Donohoe; T Prior, M Brides, R Donohoe; J Doonan, A Forde (0-1), E Jackson; D McCabe (0-1f), B McCrudden; P Reilly (Capt, 0-3f), P Galligan (0-2), J Tierney; F O'Reilly (0-3f), J O’Reilly (1-1), L Reilly.

Subs: G Sheridan, M Graham, H Smith, B Morris

Tyrone: F McConnell; C Gourley, C Holmes, M McGee; R McMenamin, S Teague(capt), D McCrossan (0-1); C McAnallen (1-0), K Hughes (0-1); B Dooher (0-1), S O'Neill (0-4, 2f), Pascal Canavan; O Mulligan, Peter Canavan (0-3, 2f), G Cavlan (0-2)

Subs: C Lawn, B McGuigan, E Gormley (0-1), D Gormley