2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final
|Event||2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship|
|Date||28 September 2003|
|Venue||Croke Park, Dublin|
The 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final was the 116th All-Ireland Football Final and the deciding match of the 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, a Gaelic football tournament. The final was held on 28 September 2003 at Croke Park, Dublin and featured defending champions Armagh against Tyrone. The counties are both in the province of Ulster and share a boundary – this was the first All-Ireland Football Final to involve two sides from the same province. Tyrone claimed their first title after the match finished 0–12 – 0–09 in their favour. Many commentators were critical of the game's entertainment value.
Each of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland is represented by a county side. Every county, except Kilkenny, participated in the 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. The "overseas counties" of London and New York also participated. Each county in Ireland is located in a province; for the purpose of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, London and New York are located in Connacht. The 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship began with the four provincial championships – knock-out competitions between county sides in the same province. The four winners of these championships progressed automatically to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The sides which did not win a provincial championship entered the All-Ireland qualifiers to determine which other four teams would play in the quarter-finals. New York, however, only competed in the provincial championship.
This was the first ever All-Ireland Football Final to be contested by two counties from the same province; in this case, Ulster. This event was only possible because of the introduction of the qualifying system in the 2001 Championship. Prior to 2001, the All-Ireland Championship was only contested by the four winners of the provincial championships, so a final between two counties from the same province was impossible.
Tyrone had previously contested the final in 1986 and 1995 but had lost on both occasions, against Kerry and Dublin respectively. Armagh were the defending champions, having won their first title the year previously. They had lost the final in 1953 and 1977. Armagh were looking to become the first side to win consecutive titles since Cork, who won in 1989 and 1990, and the first side from Ulster to do so since Down, who won in 1960 and 1961.
Routes to the final
Tyrone won the 2003 Ulster Senior Football Championship, by virtue of victories against Derry, Antrim and Down, and thus guaranteed their place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, alongside the other provincial winners. Armagh, meanwhile, lost to Monaghan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship which meant they had to enter the All-Ireland qualifiers at the first round. Armagh overcame Waterford, Antrim, Dublin and Limerick to join Tyrone at the quarter-final stage; the ties were played whilst Tyrone were competing in the latter stages of the Ulster Championship.
There were some restrictions on which sides could play each other in the quarter-finals because sides had previously met in the provincial championships but none of these affected Armagh or Tyrone. Tyrone were drawn against Fermanagh, who had unexpectedly defeated Meath and Mayo in the qualifiers, and Armagh were given a tie against Leinster winners Laois. Fermanagh were unable to pull off another upset, as Tyrone comfortably won by 1–21 (24 points) to 0–05. Armagh against Laois proved to be a more equal contest; Armagh ultimately won by 0–15 to 0–13 but the sides were level on points on nine occasions. Even before Donegal's win over Galway, which meant three of the four semi-finalists were from Ulster, there was intense media speculation about the possibility of an all-Ulster final.
Tyrone's semi-final was against Kerry, who had shown defensive weakness during their quarter-final against Roscommon. Despite captain Peter Canavan suffering an injury in the early stages of the match, Tyrone won by 0–13 to 0–06. Much of the analysis following the game focused on the manner in which the game was played. It was characterised by persistent fouling (73 frees were awarded in total) and Tyrone's defensive tactics. While many commentators expressed frustration about the quality of the game, some appreciated the skill with which Tyrone employed the tactics they did. Mickey Harte countered the criticism by saying: "There's no use in us playing flamboyantly and losing."
Donegal were Armagh's opposition in an all-Ulster semi-final. Armagh were behind at half time but took advantage of Raymond Sweeney's dismissal just after the interval to finish with a 2–10 (16 points) – 1–09 (12 points) victory. Armagh may have had a larger winning margin had they not amassed 21 wides. A death threat was allegedly made against referee Michael Monahan in the closing minutes of the match.
Brian White was announced as the referee in early September. White had already refereed two All-Ireland finals – namely Kerry against Mayo in 1997 and the replay of Kerry against Galway in 2000. He had also previously refereed a game between Armagh and Tyrone – an Ulster Championship quarter-final replay in 2002.
The final was highly anticipated, particularly as Armagh and Tyrone are neighbouring counties. Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton estimated that 40,000 fans would travel from Northern Ireland to Dublin, despite each competing county only being allocated approximately 10,000 tickets for the match. Declan Martin, policy director for Dublin Chamber of Commerce, expected the revenue generated in Dublin as a result of the final to double because two sides from Ulster were involved.
Road signs in the Pomeroy area were painted in Tyrone colours leading up to the match, an act which was condemned by the Roads Service who said the signs would cost thousands of pounds to replace. Similarly, in Strabane, a sculpture was covered in Tyrone kit. Ulster Unionist Party councillor for the town, Derek Hussey, responded by saying: "I know it is a unique sporting occasion, an all-British All-Ireland final, but the hysteria that has developed around the whole event is intimidatory to some people."
John Boyle, a native of Armagh and owner of Boylesports, expressed an interest in placing a £250,000 bet with nine other businessmen, each of whom would contribute £25,000, on Armagh winning the championship. The winnings and the stake would have been given to the Armagh squad. GAA president Seán Kelly denounced the idea: "Playing is a voluntary activity and should have nothing to do with gambling. Such bets put too much pressure on the players and are somewhat obscene." The GAA was also critical of final tickets being sold in newspaper columns and on online auction sites.
Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Ian Pearson of the Northern Ireland Office were at the match, as were eight family members of victims of the Omagh bombing, who sat in the Hogan Stand as guests of the GAA. Donegal singer Mickey Joe Harte sang Ireland's national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, before the match. In the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship Final, held just before the senior game, Laois and Dublin drew, with each side scoring 1–11 (14 points).
The starting line-ups for the senior game were released several days before the match, with both sides choosing to start with the same fifteen players that had started their respective semi-final wins. This meant that Peter Canavan had recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury he sustained in the first fifteen minutes of Tyrone's semi-final to captain Tyrone. Canavan was the only player in Tyrone's starting line-up who had played in their last All-Ireland final appearance. Ciaran Gourley, who was also an injury concern for Tyrone, was deemed fit enough to play. Brian McGuigan was suffering from the flu but still started. Armagh, on the other hand, had no injury concerns in the build-up and eleven of their starting fifteen had started the final the previous year – only Paul Hearty, Andy Mallon, Phillip Loughran and Tony McEntee were debutants, although Tony McEntee came on as a substitute in 2002.
Both sides adopted a defensive approach to the game which led many commentators to bemoan the poor quality of the match. There were frequent pauses for injuries and accusations of diving. Some analysts did, however, comment on the genuine desire to win both teams displayed. Numerous goal opportunities were missed, most notably by Tyrone, although Steven McDonnell almost drew Armagh level with a goal in the 68th minute only to be denied by an outstanding block from Conor Gormley. Tyrone led 0–08 – 0–04 at the break; five of Tyrone's points were scored by Peter Canavan from frees. Canavan was replaced during the interval as he had had a relapse of his ankle injury during training, although he did return to the pitch for the final few minutes. Diarmuid Marsden was controversially sent off in the second half following an off-the-ball incident, leaving Armagh with only fourteen players. Armagh managed to stay within two points of Tyrone at times but were ultimately unable to catch Tyrone. At the final whistle, Tyrone fans invaded the pitch and remained there for an hour. In his speech after lifting the trophy, Peter Canavan dedicated the victory to "...every Tyrone team I have played on, ...the 1986 team (beaten in the final by Kerry), and ...every player who played on teams without success." He also spoke of his father, who had died over the summer, and of Paul McGirr, who had played alongside many of the Tyrone team before he died in a freak accident aged 18.
28 September 2003
||0–09 – 0–12||Tyrone
|Diarmuid Marsden (0-1)
Oisín McConville (0-3, 3 frees)
Steven McDonnell (0-2)
John McEntee (0-1)
Paddy McKeever (0-2, 2 frees)
|Peter Canavan (0-5, 5 frees)
Gerard Cavlan (0-1)
Enda McGinley (0-1)
Brian McGuigan (0-1)
Eoin Mulligan (0-2, 2 frees)
Stephen O'Neill (0-2)
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy congratulated Tyrone on their victory. The Ulster Council of the GAA congratulated both sets of fans, in particular the Tyrone fans who formed a guard of honour for the Armagh players as they returned to their team bus. Joe Kernan, manager of Armagh, also praised the opposition fans: "...when the final whistle went and all the Tyrone supporters came running past me there wasn't one bad word said. To me that was great."
Crowds gathered across Tyrone the following day to celebrate the arrival of the Sam Maguire Cup in the county. The players' homecoming began at Aughnacloy before moving on to Ballygawley and Omagh, where upwards of 40,000 fans gathered. Despite their defeat, hundreds of Armagh fans gathered on the Louth–Armagh border to welcome their side home.
Armagh manager Joe Kernan claimed he would have stepped down as manager had his side won but defeat in the final encouraged him to continue. He lauded his players for their effort nonetheless, saying: "..we've won an All-Ireland, and got back to the final. I think that's a phenomenal achievement." He added that he was confident Armagh would win another title in the future. On the match itself, Kernan said: "I think if Steven McDonnell had got that goal towards the end, even with the man down I think we would have won the game. Big matches hinge on certain things and that was one of them." McDonnell applauded Conor Gormley's tackle which prevented him from scoring: "...I'd say it was one of the best tackles ever."
The match received extensive media coverage in Northern Ireland, especially from the predominantly nationalist Irish News. The Belfast Telegraph dedicated several pages to the match the following day, including the front and back covers, whereas The News Letter, a largely unionist publication, had sparse coverage of the final, highlighting traditional attitudes to Gaelic games in Northern Ireland.
Armagh manager Joe Kernan was adamant that Diarmuid Marsden did not deserve to be sent off and criticised players for pretending to be injured during the game. The player himself also disagreed with the decision: "The umpire said I struck him but I just saw the man coming towards me and it was more a case of getting myself out of the way or protecting myself." He added: "I'd never been sent off for Armagh before and to be sent off in an All-Ireland final is hard to take. Hopefully I won't be remembered for that. And I wouldn't like to end the career on that note." Kernan and Marsden contested the decision and subsequent ban given, but the GAA's Games Administration Committee upheld the penalty. However, after taking their case to the Central Council, the ban was overturned.
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