One of the GAA’s greatest rivalries has gone stale in recent years. As a new millennium began, Ulster football embarked on a golden era in taking the game of Gaelic football to a new level. Armagh and Tyrone were the two finest contributors and their rivalry will return to Headquarters this weekend.
Not since 2005 have Armagh and Tyrone gone toe-to-toe in Croke Park. On the September 4 that year, one of the greatest battles of the last 20 years commenced with Peter Canavan putting Tyrone back in an All-Ireland final with a last minute free.
1-13 to 1-12 was the scoreline that day. It was the third meeting between the sides in Croke Park that year. Both sides had acquired a win, a loss and a draw but Tyrone would have the last laugh in winning the most important match and going on the lift the more prestigious piece of silverware, the Sam Maguire cup.
That year saw the end of the most entertaining and encapturing chapter of this fascinating rivalry. In four championship seasons, Armagh and Tyrone faced each other on five occasions. Armagh had Ulster success in 2002, on the way to winning the All-Ireland title.
2003 saw both face off in the All-Ireland decider, with Tyrone winning by three points. 2005 then saw one of the finest trilogies of all time. There were so many highlights; the Stephen O’Neill masterclass, an Armagh comeback, Peter Canavan’s red-card, that Conor Gormley block, Steven McDonnell’s audacious scores. This list goes on.
Since 2005, the teams have played each other four further times. The rivalry changed from seeing the teams face off five times in four seasons, to four times in eleven. Tyrone have remained comprehensively competitive since 2005 while Armagh have declined since then with appearances in Croke Park becoming a rare occurrence.
Overall there have been nine championship meetings between the sides since 2002. Tyrone have five wins, Armagh have three, with both sides failing to be separated on one occasion.
An introduction to these two sides like what can be read above can only help to build excitement ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final. History is history and a lot has changed over the years, but all neutrals are hoping that both of these sides will bring out the best in each other, as they have managed to do in the past.
Quite remarkably, over the course of those nine meetings, a mere total of eight points separate the sides.
2017 has seen a form of resurrection from Armagh. The feel-good factor was definitely back last weekend as they fought their way to victory against Kildare. It was a performance synonymous with the Armagh of old.
Kieran McGeeney led Armagh to the All-Ireland title in 2002. Not just in his title as captain, but with his leading performances on the field of play. His stint as manager has been up and down. 2014 looked like Armagh were well primed to build for the future but it has taken three years for them to get back to an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Jamie Clarke’s return has been the most marketed story of their season so far. The qualifier run has suited the Orchard men. They now have the opportunity to face their arch rivals and build massive momentum not just for 2017, but for future years.
Tyrone have had a faultless 2017 championship to date. Three games, three comfortable wins and three big scores racked up. Their attacking failings came to fruition in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, but stats so far have demonstrated a strong spread of scorers and big scoring tallies.
0-22, 1-21 and 2-17 will be good enough to beat most teams, including Armagh, whose highest scores have been 0-20 and 1-17 so far this year. Tyrone have put their early season negatives behind them and the summer has seen them impress a lot of people and show, what look to be, All-Ireland winning credentials.
What most neutrals hope for this weekend is another cracking contest. What Armagh and Tyrone had the beauty of doing, was making defensive football entertaining. Blanket defences and game plans were introduced by these sides in the early 2000’s.
But this never deterred from the quality of their contests. They weren’t overly high scoring affairs, nor were they the most expansive. But the intensity and skill qualities were of the highest order.
Here is hoping that this great rivalry will reproduce what we saw in the early 2000’s. These counties provided some of the finest GAA matches of the last 15 years, and all will hope that something along the same lines will be on show in Croke Park this Saturday.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we look ahead to the meeting of Tyrone and Armagh as well as all the weekend’s action