A Tyrone great on the sideline, first season bounce and 'phenomenal' Mayo

After three All-Ireland medal wins as a player, Brian Dooher faces into a final as Tyrone manager.

Tyrone joint manager Brian Dooher.
Tyrone joint manager Brian Dooher.
Image: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

HERE’S A STATISTIC to beat the band; not only did both All-Ireland semi-finals go to extra-time, but both winning teams forced the ball from the opponent’s control a whopping 35 times.

Turnovers. No one variable can be measured and said to be behind a particular result. But if you force the opposition into that level of mistakes, you know you have them frazzled and exhausted.

As teams to play against, Tyrone and Mayo are remarkably similar. They take you to where the air is thin and start pressing on your throat.

And nobody was as comfortable in an environment like that as Brian Dooher.

It is tempting to think that he might have enjoyed playing in this era even more than the supposedly halcyon period he did. More than most, he would be ideally suited to a game that requires enormous aerobic capacity and an ability to think your way around the game.

He and Logan were on the same panel for a few years but their playing careers were markedly different. Logan’s generation feel they left an All-Ireland behind them in 1995. Dooher’s generation were wildly gifted and lifted the first three All-Ireland titles in Tyrone’s history.

Throughout it, Dooher was the constant and lifted Sam Maguire twice as captain.

His hunched-over running style undermined a serious football talent, so much so that Colm O’Rourke was embarrassed by saying he would eat his hat if a team containing Brian Dooher could win an All-Ireland.

The passage of play that sums up Dooher’s character came in the 24th minute of the 2008 final against Kerry.

Joe McMahon and Ryan McMenamin were making heavy work of trying to work the ball out of the defence with Eoin Brosnan and Seamus Scanlon getting hands in. It was shovelled back to Dooher and he immediately evaded the challenge of his marker Killian Young.

Darragh Ó Sé watched him coming from 20 metres away and lined up a shoulder. Dooher’s response was to bounce the ball when most would have been bracing themselves for impact. Young caught up with him and tried to shoulder him into the Cusack Stand, before trying another grapple. Dooher just kept going until he split the posts off the outside of his right boot to level the game.

His involvement lasted ten seconds. But it stands alongside the famous swarm tackle against Kerry in 2003 and Owen Mulligan’s goal against Dublin in 2005 as the most famous plays in Tyrone football history.

But that was in the day when he could directly affect things. These days, at one remove on the sideline, he is a tormented man, darting up and down the touchline, mad for road.

“I’m not sure if it’s enjoyment or not, maybe it’s enjoyment afterwards if you win them,” he says of his experiences as joint manager.

“They’re just a challenge and I suppose you enjoy the challenge of it, that’s probably what you do enjoy more but it’s hard to know if enjoyment would be the word for some of the stuff, you could probably think of better things, whenever it’s going well it’s alright but things don’t always go well for you.”

With an Anglo-Celt already in the cabinet it is almost inevitable that people will think that it has gone very well indeed for Dooher. But he has had to cope with a Covid outbreak and a day in Killarney when he watched six goals fly into the Tyrone net.

Ask him if he is enjoying a ‘first-season bounce,’ and he is hesitant.

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“I suppose you come in and there is maybe a freshness, something different, I don’t know. When Mickey (Harte) came into us in 2003 it worked for us.

“I think it’s the players, maybe they realised they have a point to prove again, and maybe they’re out to prove a point to everybody. They want to get on the team, there’s a whole freshness from that perspective, maybe.”

Almost to a man, players and former team mates will say Dooher is a bullshit-free zone. Any suggestion that he might get a bit of credit as a manager, and he turns it straight onto the players, just as he did as a player himself, when he was making the big, decisive plays.

And there will be a few of them required in an All-Ireland final against a ravenous Mayo side.

“Mayo have been there or thereabouts over the last 10 years plus, they’re always there, always knocking on the door, consistently they’ve been there,” he notes.

“They have been a phenomenal outfit this year, deservedly so. They held Dublin to 13 points, which a lot of people never talk about, no team ever held them near to that in normal time. That’s evidence of the workrate that they put in all around the field, not just in defence, and they put up some big scores this year as well.”

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About the author:

Declan Bogue

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