“He Was Definitely Targeted, We Have To Target The Special Players”

tyrone kerry

There comes a price with being a top-level forward, especially in Gaelic games. 

Of course, there is pressure involved when it comes to being the scorer-in-chief but the fact that every great forward comes in for special attention from opposition defender’s brings its own kind of pressure.

They have to be able to stand up, face the fight and meet the challenge head-on. All the while, they must still be able to contribute on the scoreboard.

In the last 20 years of Gaelic games, no county has embodied this art of abrasive, ‘in-your-face’ defending like Mickey Harte’s Tyrone setup. The Red Hands have been accused of ‘sledging’ on numerous occasions with many feeling their underhanded tactics have no place in the game.

One county who could never seem to get to grips with Tyrone’s style of play was the great Kerry side of the noughties, the pair met in two All-Ireland finals, 2005 and 2008, with Tyrone coming out on top each time.

There’s not much debate surrounding Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper’s inclusion as the greatest forward of this particular era, however, Cooper was rarely on the right side of results against Tyrone.

Writing in his 2017 autobiography, Gooch, the Dr Crokes forward told how he had never come across a team such as Tyrone before who regarded ‘trash-talking’ as fundamental to the game as tackling.

“Tyrone were different. They were the first team I came up against who seemed to regard trash-talk as being just as fundamental to the game as tackling. And they were relentless in ‘05. Right from the throw-in, a constant commentary.

“Ryan McMenamin would be my marker in that year’s All-Ireland final and ‘Ricey’ almost prided himself on being able to wind a forward up.

“He’d hit you the odd dig into the back too and try to annoy you with these little pinches, hoping you might throw an elbow back and get the line. Tyrone were pushing the boundaries that year — maybe overstepping them at times — and who could really blame them?

“Bottom line, if winning demanded Tyrone be nasty, they were more than willing to be that.”

Cooper added that his issue was Tyrone were allowed to win by hook or by crook.

“They were testing you in every single way. But the big issue for me was that they were allowed to do it. That’s the bit I really hated it, the stuff that would go unpunished.”

“Winning by hook or by crook. Horrible.”

The Kerry legend also described the first-half incident in the 2005 All-Ireland final that resulted in him briefly losing sight in one of his eyes.

“I was making a run in around the penalty spot, just trying to lose my man and Tyrone’s goalie, Pascal McConnell, kept charging out towards me as if trying to block my run. On this one occasion, his glove made contact with my face.

“I got this horrible sensation of grit in my eye and immediately went down. And all around me became a symphony directed towards the referee Mick Monahan.

“Diving ref, diving, diving, diving.

“Monahan comes over to me and says ‘whatever you do, don’t retaliate’.

“Rightly or wrongly, I reckon I’ve just been taken out of the game, possibly in a premeditated move, and the ref’s only answer is to tell me not to hit back.”

Despite Cooper’s hard words surrounding Tyrone’s tactics, both the 2005 and 2008 are remembered fondly due to the intensity, closeness and quality of action on display in an era where many were quick to call anything to do with northern sides, ‘puke football’.

Eir Sport will be taking a look back at both of those finals this week as part of the All-Ireland Gold series.

Former Tyrone star Owen Mulligan sat down with the broadcaster to discuss their great rivalry with Kerry and when the subject of Cooper’s autobiography came up. With regards to the incident with Pascal McConnell, Mulligan stopped short of saying it was pre-meditated but he did admit that Tyrone targeted Cooper in the same way they targeted Padraic Joyce and Alan Brogan.

“I don’t think it was ‘I’m going to stick my finger into your eye here’ but he was definitely, definitely targeted. I don’t know if Packie says ‘right, I’m going to do this on purpose’ it was probably a tussle.

“But, you’re Gooch Cooper, you’re one of the best forwards in Ireland, of course you are going to get targeted, the same as Alan Brogan, the same as Padraic Joyce.

“We have to target the special players to win games and see out games.

“You know, that’s the way it is, if I shook a player’s hand and he didn’t put his hand on me or pull my jersey, I’d be rubbing my hands and saying ‘I’m in for some day here’.

“All the best players, the Sean Mart Lockhart’s, the Niall McCusker’s, the Bellew’s. Like Bellew, he didn’t mark you by the jersey, he marked you by the skin. That’s the man he was, in the 2003 final down my left and right side, grab marks, but great tussles, that’s what you expected.

“You have to expect that sort of intensity that you’re bringing to any games… If forwards think they’re not going to get any attention, they are deluded… deluded.”

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