Conor Gormley: You have to make your own luck, but that mostly comes by hard work
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Imagine trying to get a good night’s sleep when you know the following day is all about winning your county’s first All-Ireland title.
Conor Gormley was part of the Tyrone side that beat Armagh 0-12 to 0-9 to lift the Sam Maguire in 2003, in front of almost 80,000 people at Croke Park.
A huge occasion for the players and the county, the Carrickmore man spent the night before in a room alongside one of his fellow half-backs.
“In 2003, I was sharing a hotel room with Gavin Devlin on the night before the All-Ireland,” says Gormley. “I wanted to sleep in until nine or maybe half nine, to not be up too early, but Gavin had other ideas. He jumped up and started beating me at seven in the morning. He started shouting ‘we’re going to win an All-Ireland today, we’re going to win an All-Ireland today’.
“That’s the sort of character he is,” says Gormley of Devlin, who is now an assistant to Mickey Harte on the Tyrone sideline. “I hope he’s buzzing when he’s on the line on Sunday.”
Few pundits out there are giving Tyrone much chance of dethroning three-in-a-row champions Dublin this Sunday, and to land a first All-Ireland in a decade for the Red Hands. It was a major jolt to the confidence of Harte’s side when they were casually swept aside by the Dubs at the semi-final stage a year ago, but there have been green shoots in the interim.
Tyrone had a more creditable performance against the capital during the league, losing by five points in Omagh, before they resumed hostilities in a Super 8 clash where the men in blue won by 1-14 to 0-14. The latter was an intense battle and it could have been even closer if Ronan O’Neill’s late free had brought the deficit back to a single point.
There’s a storied history between these sides, but only in recent times. This final will be a tenth ever championship meeting — Dublin with six wins, Tyrone two, and a draw — but all have come since 1984. It’s a league clash in 2006, then referred to as the ‘Battle of Omagh’, that is often cited when people speak of this rivalry, an occasion where tempers spilled over at Healy Park. The game suggested there was an underlying spite between the counties.
“No, I don’t think so,” says Gormley, “The Dubs wanted to set down a marker with us because we came into the game as All-Ireland champions after 2005, and it just got out of hand a bit. No one wants to see it but that’s how it happened that day, and I think it was overhyped a bit too much. There was a serious intensity in the game.
“The atmosphere at Croke Park was unbelievable for our games,” Gormley adds of the clashes with Dublin, who he faced twice in 2005, in 2008, 2010 and 2011. “I’ve felt nothing like it before or since, they really are amazing games to play in. I remember when Mossy Quinn scored a goal against us in the 2005 quarter-final at the Canal End and the place just erupted, and the place was shaking then because of both fans when we all ran in at the half-time break.
“Then the Mugsy (Owen Mulligan) goal was something out of nothing. He had been having a poor game, as he said himself, and maybe he felt the curly finger coming. It was a special goal and to produce it at Croke Park on a big day was something else. But it typified what we were about because you had Brian McGuigan getting back to make a tackle just before it, and then he was up supporting the play.”
You sense that Harte’s side will need plenty of breathless work to deny the Dubs a 28th All-Ireland crown. Jim Gavin’s championship record is ludicrously good at this stage; from 37 games played, he’s won 34, drawn two, and lost just once against Donegal in 2014.
And while Tyrone have perhaps been making gains on the dominant team of this decade, there is the Croke Park factor to consider. Galway felt they had made ground on the Dubs after strong showings during the league in Salthill and at GAA HQ, but it’s a different ball game in the summer at the big house.
“Tyrone love Croke Park,” Gormley counters. “I don’t buy this idea that this pitch is going to be a factor on Sunday. We always loved coming down to Croker, that’s why you play the game, to get here for a final. We’ll go in as the underdogs, but I think Tyrone are in a good place. I’d love to be involved myself,” adds the 37-year-old.
“I think Tyrone need to go at Dublin in this game, the same way Mayo have in the past. If you sit back and let the Dubs go in front, we all know how good they are at managing a lead. What I’d love to see is how they react when they have to chase a game. You’d have to take heart from the game in Omagh, but it showed that we need to take every opportunity and be efficient upfront. Just look at what happened to Galway, they missed a penalty and another goal chance, so you need to take your chances to stay in the game.
“We need more scores upfront, and we need to get the running game going. Conor Meyler if he’s fit, Kieran McGeary, Peter Harte and Niall Sludden need to be in the game more than they were in the Super 8 game.”
Gormley explains that there is a great buzz in the county going into the final, and he would love to see this side win simply to inspire the next generation of footballers in Tyrone. It’s often been spoken of how Harte gets each of his players to pick up their Tyrone shirts in the dressing-room, before putting them on in unison.
Gormley says he’s noted a change to the policy in recent seasons. “He always did that with the jerseys, even going back to when we were Under-21s. Mickey always makes a point of highlighting its importance and what it means to you as an individual. We used to always do it in the dressing-room, but I’ve noticed the boys are carrying their shirts now as they come off the bus.
“Mickey’s mood before the game and at half-time depends on how the team is going,” the three-time All-Ireland winner adds. “He can let you know and pick you out if you’re not doing what you should be. The preparation for this will be the same as any other game, and I know they went away last weekend to Kildare, which is the usual routine.
The men in white are carrying the hopes of the county, but can they overcome the dominant Dubs?
“I think we have to be positive,” says Gormley. “We’re massive outsiders but anything can happen in a two-horse race. Mayo got close in the past, but on one day two own goals went in, very unlucky.
“You have to make your own luck, I suppose, but that mostly comes by hard work. You have to go out and enjoy your 70 minutes on days like this. The Dubs have to be beaten at some stage so why not now? You never know. I think Tyrone can win.”