Red Hand finally gets to grasp Sam

CROKE PARK looked like it was frozen white as the GAA season came to an end yesterday.

A surging northern sea swept over the pitch, as grown men wept and the GAA president rhymed with football supporters everywhere, delighted that Peter Canavan, the greatest footballer of his generation, finally got his hands on Sam Maguire after 14 years.

This year’s football final won’t be remembered for its quality, but that won’t matter to Canavan or his Tyrone teammates. Yesterday ended another great hunger. Tyrone, a proud football county, had reached this stage twice before and left disappointed. That yesterday’s battle was against Armagh, reigning champions and near neighbours, made victory all the sweeter. They are now the 19th county to win an All-Ireland title.

It was an emotional day. Canavan had to compose himself as he thought of those who never saw Tyrone reach their promised land. He evoked his father Sean and Paul McGirr. His father passed away during the summer, while McGirr was a minor teammate of many of yesterday’s victorious team, who died tragically six years ago.

“Words will not do justice to my feelings or the feelings of all of these people here,” Canavan said, accepting the cup. “This is for every Tyrone team I have played on, this is for the 1986 team and for every player who played on teams without success. This is for you.”

His words echoed the sense of unity that brought Tyrone to their Holy Grail. It was personified in Conor Gormley’s match-winning block with only a few minutes to go. That came at a stage when Tyrone were hanging on grimly. Armagh did not surrender their All-Ireland title without a fight.

When Diarmuid Marsden, Armagh’s full-forward, was sent off in the second half, Tyrone people finally started to believe their day had come. Mickey Harte was the man who led them there and afterwards, he was very emotional.

“We have got to be thankful to a lot of good people, a lot of people got us to where we are. A lot of people sent us good wishes, prayers and medals of all kind. I don’t think they went unanswered. There were times we needed prayers, and the prayers came into action.

“We lit candles, visited relatives’ graves, that is the spirit of the GAA. It is about real people with a real passion and they don’t divorce it from their real life. The GAA is about those people and I am so glad those people who went to those efforts, they were rewarded.”

The rewards will come to the county tonight as Sam Maguire arrives there. It has taken 119 years to reach the summit. Expect celebrations worthy of this achievement.

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