Major Memories: Tyrone Clinch Minor Success Following Major Mayo Test

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As we head down the home stretch towards yet another Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor decider it’s time to reflect on the many classics that the prestigious grade has given Gaels down through the years. 

When these young men take to the field they play with a freedom and sense of expression that rarely exists outside of minor level. It’s inter-county GAA in its purest sense, which so often makes for memorable matches.

One such decider took place 11-years ago when it took not one but two gripping encounters to separate Tyrone and Mayo in the All-Ireland Minor Football Final.

Looking back, this match-up was never going to be anything but a classic with names like Donnelly, Harte, O’Shea and Hennelly on show.

Tyrone were widely tipped as one of the competition’s favourites from the get-go after clinching the Ulster Minor League and they lived up to the hype dispatching of Monaghan in the Ulster final before navigating their way through Roscommon and a teak-tough Meath side en route to the 2008 decider.

Mayo, similarly, were tipped to go far and had been in scintillating form all year. They too dispatched of Roscommon (Connacht final) and Monaghan (All-Ireland quarter-final) before taking on the might of Kerry in the final four.  The first game finished level, however, Mayo trounced the Kingdom by ten points in the replay to set up a final meeting with the Red Hands.

The pair met in Croke Park on September 21, 2008, with both crowds in boisterous form. Tyrone were preparing for a senior final that day so their support was massive but we all know how much Mayo fans like to support their own and they proved to be just as vocal as the Red Hand support throughout a gripping encounter that finished 0-14 to 0-14 after Tyrone clinched a draw with the last kick of the game through Paddy McNeice.

On the day, it was Mayo who dominated proceedings for the majority of the game with Aidan O’Shea in inspired form as he caught kick-out after kick-out after kick-out. What made O’Shea’s performance all the more impressive is that he was in a race against time to be fit for the final having broken his hand in that year’s Connacht final win.

Pearse Park in Longford played host to the replay a week later and it proved to be as tense and as thrilling as the drawn game.

Tyrone seemed to be the fresher of the two sides throughout the opening stages and ably helped by that season’s star player, Kyle Coney, they went in at half-time 0-8 to 0-6 ahead of Mayo. However, Mayo rallied in the second half with Aidan O’Shea, yet again, in inspirational form as they took the lead heading into the final quarter.

The Ulster champions fought back to set-up a grandstand finish. The teams were level on four occasions in the final 12 minutes as yet another draw looked to be on the cards. It was confirmed two minutes into stoppage time when Aidan Walsh pointed his sixth free of the day to rescue Mayo and send the game into extra-time with the final score once again reading 0-14 to 0-14.

After 120 minutes of action, 20 more was needed to separate the sides and from the off, it was clear that Tyrone seemed to have a bit more gas in the tank. While Mayo missed four scoreable chances in the opening period of extra-time, Tyrone kicked three points through McNeice and Coney, who had now shot 0-5 from play. The three-point gap was the largest lead either side had built up and it proved to be the launchpad to victory for the young Ulster men.

Just 20 seconds into the second period of extra-time, Tyrone struck the killer blow when Conor O’Neill finished to the net put Tyrone out of sight. Mayo continued to battle bravely and got a consolation goal through James Cafferty in the final minutes but it was to be Tyrone who lifted their seventh All-Ireland Minor title on a scoreline of 1-20 to 1-15.

These young men treated supporters to two epic spectacles over the course of that week and it was unfair that one side had to come out on the wrong side of the result. However, as seen by some of the playing careers men from both sides have gone on to have it is clear the value that this competition brings in terms of setting them up to take the next step.

Aidan O’Shea would go on to make his senior debut with Mayo the following year, picking up a Connacht title along the way. To date, the Breaffy star has won six Connacht titles, three All-Stars and has appeared in four All-Ireland finals as well as being one of the most recognisable faces in all of GAA.

Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly are now the standout leaders on the Tyrone senior panel and were pivotal in the county’s run to last year’s All-Ireland final. Harte has amassed two Ulster titles to go alongside his All-Star win in 2016 while Donnelly now captains the Tyrone side and has won two All-Stars himself.

These men have proved that the minor grade can be a stepping stone to greatness. It will be interesting to see if the likes of Ethan Henry, Dylan Geaney, James McLaughlin and Conor Corbett can replicate this success in the near future.

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