With the spread of Covid in the community, it was always likely that a showpiece game would have been directly affected as the victorious Tyrone camp were this week.
On a murky winter night last year as Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher were unveiled as the new joint-management succeeding Mickey Harte after 18 years, the question was asked by the invited media about their sizeable contingent of coaches.
Logan made the point that it was the world they were living in, and with Covid a concern, they might be down bodies at any point. Even knowing this he couldn’t have foreseen his wretched luck in missing out on a winning Ulster final in his first year in the role because he was isolating.
“I would be very disappointed for Feargal and Feargal would be disappointed not to be here,” said Dooher afterwards.
“I suppose that was the medical advice that had to be adhered to. But Feargal had his input. He was in our ears and had valuable input to contribute during the match. And we took that on board.”
You’d like to picture his living room in Donaghmore; cushions getting a hiding, teacups scattered. Maybe an ashtray spilling over. Or perhaps he had set up a Situation Room. Either way, he had to have been going spare at the tight finish and final whistle?
“I haven’t got chatting him since but I can just imagine! I had the earpiece out!” smiled Dooher.
As well as Logan, Tiernan McCann, Rory Brennan, and Frank Burns also missed out on Tyrone’s 16th Anglo-Celt win. All three played huge roles in the Ulster semi-final win over Donegal.
Here, they got the basics right in the first half. They identified the men to watch as Karl O’Connell and Ryan McAnespie coming out of defence. They had to set up a block for Darren Hughes coming through the middle and they needed to be tight on the creativity of Conor McCarthy, Jack McCarron, and Conor McManus.
The lieutenants selected for those tasks were, in order; Niall Sludden, Conor Meyler, the huge Brian Kennedy, Peter Harte, Ronan McNamee, and Padraig Hampsey.
At times it threatened to become a glut of scoring but the slippy pitch and nerves dragged it into more familiar Ulster territory, suffocating and error-ridden.
By the break and 0-11 to 0-6 up, Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney went for broke. Niall Kearns came in for Hughes and a reshuffle placed the lively Colin Walshe into the full-forward line.
They proceeded to kick six of the next seven scores to level matters.
Problem was it took them 16 minutes to register their next score. Cathal McShane came on and popped one over and Peter Harte garnished the game with a point from play. Those were to be their only scores from play in the second half, the rest coming from Darren McCurry deadball strikes.
Overlapping wildly, Monaghan got back into it and some madness gripped the closing minutes.
With a minute left, a Niall Morgan kickout scaled everything and ended up in the grateful arms of Mattie Donnelly, Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan having missed with his jump.
The Scotstown man still managed to get back in time to rob the ball. “I thought it was an Ulster Championship winning tackle,” lamented Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney.
The performance of the goalkeepers in general was mind-bending stuff. On each other’s kickouts with both teams forming narrow columns to sprint into open space on the wings, Morgan and Beggan drifted into that space to cut out the options.
Tyrone got a two-point cushion to carry into the last three minutes when a high ball from Conor McKenna was fielded by McCurry and he converted his mark.
A Conor McManus free cut the margin to the quick.
Monaghan had chances to take it to extra-time. Dessie Ward inexplicably took on a shot that wasn’t suited for him. When David Gough threw the ball up unhappy that Niall Morgan took too much time over a kickout, Kieran Hughes fielded it, dished out to Walshe but his shot was hoisted too high and ultimately too short.
Tyrone killed off the remaining minute by keeping ball comfortably through Peter Harte and Niall Morgan mainly, before ‘The Flower of Sweet Strabane’ rang out over the PA.
Another title, won in the midst of an emergency. They’ll never forget this one.
You can make an argument that this generation of Monaghan have been Tyrone’s equals for every year since Malachy O’Rourke came in for the 2013 season. But there is a stinging truth that when it comes to the very biggest days, Tyrone just have too much for them.
The head-to-heads include Tyrone wins in the Ulster finals of 2007 and 2010, as well as the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final.
When Monaghan beat Tyrone in the Ulster quarter final of 2018, it looked as if they had them mastered. But they two met later in the year in the All-Ireland semi-final and once again, Tyrone prevailed by the same margin, Monaghan spurning a late chance.
One door closes, another door opens. Robbed of three key elements of their win over Donegal in Frank Burns, Tiernan McCann, and Rory Brennan, Tyrone were able to bring in Conor McKenna for a starting spot, got some more minutes into the legs of Cathal McShane, and sent in Darragh Canavan for his first Ulster title. Gulp.
Robbed of his wing-man Logan for the day, Brian Dooher admitted that Tyrone were merely hanging on in the end. In fairness, it became a game where nothing was in control.
Conor Meyler was sent to mark Ryan McAnespie, the man who generally makes a lot of the good transition work happen for Monaghan. He became increasingly peripheral while Meyler himself was a constant outlook for kickouts.
Nothing to report but Covid is the new bumps and bruises and soft tissue injuries. And God knows where we are heading with that.
David Gough kept his whistle nice and pristine for the next day. Booked a few players for high tackles and called them fairly.
Tyrone now face Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final. It’s a tough one for Monaghan who had lost just one game in the season prior to this.
D McCurry (0-5, 2 frees, 1 mark), M Donnelly (0-3, 1 free), M Bradley (0-2), M McKernan, P Hampsey, N Sludden, P Harte, K McGeary, C McShane (0-1 each).
C McManus (0-4, 3 frees), J McCarron (0-3, 1 mark), R Beggan (2 frees), C McCarthy (0-2 each), K Duffy, C Boyle, C Walshe (mark), K Lavelle (0-1 each).
N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, P Hampsey; M O’Neill, P Harte, K McGeary; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; N Sludden, C McKenna, C Meyler; M Donnelly, M Bradley, D McCurry.
N Kelly for M O’Neill (18), C McShane for Kennedy (46), D Canavan for Kilpatrick (54), R O’Neill for Bradley (66).
R Beggan; K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie; K O’Connell, D Ward, R McAnespie; D Hughes, K Lavelle; S O’Hanlon, A Mulligan, M Bannigan; C McCarthy, J McCarron, C McManus.
S Carey for Mulligan (31), N Kearns for D Hughes, C Walshe for O’Connell (h-t), K Hughes for O’Hanlon (54), A Woods for McCarthy (63).
David Gough (Meath).