‘Tyrone’s star was rising’ - Galway’s Tomás Meehan looks back on the last summer clash between the sides

The two sides last met in a third-round All-Ireland qualifier in 2004 that marked a changing of the guard

This Saturday, Tyrone go to Galway for a first championship meeting between the counties since July 2004. It was a third-round qualifier in Croke Park between teams who had won two of the previous three All-Irelands.

It would confirm a symbolic changing of the guard in terms of football style and tactics.

Tyrone were champions for the first time but had lost their Ulster title and were also coping with the shockingly premature death of their captain Cormac McAnallen. They had enough for Galway that day, however, winning straightforwardly, 1-16 to 0-11.

It ended up as a last match for their manager John O’Mahony after seven years in charge and two All-Irelands.


Although already beaten in Connacht by Mayo, who would defeat Tyrone in that year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, O’Mahony’s team were not envisaging the end of the line just yet, according to Tomás Meehan, who lined out at corner back.

“My thoughts at the time were that Galway hadn’t done ourselves justice in 2002 and ‘03 when Armagh and Tyrone won and that 2004 might be a year we could have challenged more than we did. But we were well beaten by Tyrone on the day and the scoreline probably flattered us.”

He says that the rise of the Ulster teams did create a tactical step change.

“There was definitely a change. The Brian Dooher role for Tyrone would have been something we were aware of and had practised for – we had played them in that year’s league semi-final. He was probably one of the first of those all-action, up-and-down the field wing forwards that every team has now.”

Earlier that year, the counties played out a high-tempo league semi-final, which went to a replay. That encounter gave Galway confidence that they could compete with the new champions.

“In the league we had tried to have a plan. I suppose that was a definite change in style and then there was the swarm defence and how hard they worked across the field. Between them and Armagh there was a new intensity that probably wasn’t there when I started playing.

“I was hopeful that day that we’d have a chance of progressing but we were probably on the wane at that stage and Tyrone’s star was rising. The next few years showed that.”

On the day, Meehan – one of four brothers involved in the game with Declan, Michael and Noel, who had all won a club All-Ireland for Caltra the previous March – wasn’t in a position to analyse the tactical nuances. Marking Stephen O’Neill, “so I had my work cut out,” he remembers, the difference wasn’t really at the back.

“It was in the forwards and the pressure the Derek Savages and Pádraic Joyces came under when they got the ball. The way they defended in packs was excellent.

“Their forward play – they had excellent forwards – was about exploiting space. Croke Park is a big pitch and there’s no hiding places out there.

“We still played very much man to man. There wouldn’t have been cover. It was you against your marker and if you weren’t quick enough or strong enough, you wouldn’t have anyone doing zonal defence and marking space to help you. You were on your own – and good luck!

“We relied on midfield and the half forwards to put pressure on the ball as opposed to cutting out of what had been kicked in – pressurise the delivery. We hadn’t evolved to the current defensive structures. It was naive, I suppose.”

Galway didn’t take easily to the new order in the intervening 20 years but Meehan believes that the reluctance was largely immaterial.

“I don’t think it mattered for a while because if you’re not quite good enough, it doesn’t matter what style you play; you’re not going to close the gap.”

The rise of his county last year to reach an All-Ireland final for the first time since 2001 was he believes, based on the strength of the playing panel under the management of his old team-mate, Pádraic Joyce.

“Galway have excellent players and really good defenders and I think that ability combined with a good tactical set-up and structure means they’re definitely competitive with Kerry.”

He notes further evolution in recent seasons.

“A few years ago, no one marked anyone. It was all about marking space – seven or eight people back and in the way and you’d never know whose man scored 0-4. Every team now has man markers because you can’t for instance play Kerry without marking David Clifford. Marking space just won’t work. You need someone on him.

“It’s a great contest when Clifford goes up against Mick Fitzsimons or someone like that. Some days he can be marked and as a defender, I like to see that!”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times