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2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final

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2003 All-Ireland Football Final
Event 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship
Date 28 September 2003
Venue Croke Park, Dublin
Referee Brian White
Attendance 79,391

The 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final was the 116th final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, a Gaelic football tournament. It 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 between sides from the same province. Tyrone won their first title after the match finished 0–12 – 0–09 in their favour. Many commentators were critical of the game's entertainment value.

Competition structure[edit]

For more details on the competition, see All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
For more details on county sides, see GAA County.

Each of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland is represented by a county side. Apart from Kilkenny, they all participated in the 2003 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. The "overseas counties" of London and New York also participated. Every county in Ireland is located in a province; London and New York were in Connacht for the purpose of the championship. It began with four provincial championships – knock-out competitions between sides in the same province. The four winners progressed to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The remaining sides, apart from New York, entered the All-Ireland qualifiers to determine the other four teams to contest the quarter-finals. These were followed by the semi-finals and the All-Ireland final.


For more details on the sport and the terminology used in this article, see Gaelic football.
County Armagh and County Tyrone shown within Ireland
County Armagh (orange) and County Tyrone (red) shown within Ireland

This was the first final between two counties from the same province;[1] in this case, Ulster. This was only possible because of the qualifying system introduced in the 2001 championship.[2] Previously, 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 contested the final in 1986 and 1995 but lost on both occasions, against Kerry and Dublin respectively.[3] Armagh were the defending champions,[4] having won their first title the year previously.[4] They had lost the final in 1953 and 1977.[4] No side had won consecutive titles since Cork in 1989 and 1990, while no side from Ulster had done so since Down, who won in 1960 and 1961.[3]

Tyrone had already won the 2003 National Football League[5] and the year's Ulster Championship,[6] in what was manager Mickey Harte's first year in charge.[7]

Routes to the final[edit]

Tyrone progressed directly to the All-Ireland quarter finals as they won the 2003 Ulster Senior Football Championship, through victories against Derry,[8] Antrim[9] and Down.[6] Armagh lost to Monaghan in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship[10] and therefore entered the All-Ireland qualifiers at the first round.[10] They defeated Waterford,[11] Antrim,[12] Dublin[13] and Limerick[14] to join Tyrone at the quarter-final stage; the ties were played whilst Tyrone were competing in the latter stages of the Ulster Championship.

Sides that had played each other in the provincial championships could not be drawn together in the quarter-finals[15] but none of these restrictions affected Armagh or Tyrone.[15] Tyrone were drawn against Fermanagh, who had unexpectedly defeated Meath and Mayo in the qualifiers,[15] while Armagh were drawn against Leinster championship winners Laois.[15] Tyrone won their game by 1–21 (24 points) to 0–05.[16] Armagh defeated Laois by 0–15 to 0–13, although the sides were level on points on nine occasions.[17] 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.[18]

Tyrone's semi-final was against Kerry. Despite their captain Peter Canavan suffering an injury early on, Tyrone won by 0–13 to 0–06.[19] Much of the match analysis focused on the manner in which it was played.[20] It was characterised by persistent fouling[21] (73 frees were awarded in total[22]) and Tyrone's defensive tactics.[23] While many commentators expressed frustration about the quality of the game,[22][24] some appreciated the skill with which Tyrone employed their tactics.[24][25] Mickey Harte countered the criticism by saying: "There's no use in us playing flamboyantly and losing."[24]

Donegal were Armagh's opposition in an all-Ulster semi-final. Armagh were behind at half time[26] 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.[26] Armagh may have had a larger winning margin had they not amassed 21 wides.[26] A death threat was allegedly made against referee Michael Monahan in the closing minutes.[27]


Brian White, who had previously refereed two All-Ireland finals,[21] was announced as the match referee in early September.[21] He had once previously refereed a game between Armagh and Tyrone – an Ulster Championship quarter-final replay in 2002.[21]

The final was highly anticipated, particularly as Armagh and Tyrone are neighbouring counties.[28] Police Service of Northern Ireland Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton estimated that 40,000 fans would travel from Northern Ireland to Dublin,[29] despite each competing county only being allocated approximately 10,000 match tickets.[1] Declan Martin, policy director for Dublin Chamber of Commerce, expected the revenue generated in the city as a result of the final to double because two sides from Ulster were involved.[30]

Road signs in the Pomeroy area were painted in Tyrone colours leading up to the match. This was condemned by the Roads Service, who said the signs would cost thousands of pounds to replace.[31] In Strabane, a sculpture was covered in Tyrone kit.[32] 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."[32]

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.[33] The winnings and the stake would have been given to the Armagh squad.[34] 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."[33] The GAA was also critical of tickets for the final being sold in newspaper columns and on online auction sites.[35]


Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Ian Pearson of the Northern Ireland Office were at the match,[36] as were eight family members of victims of the Omagh bombing, who sat in the Hogan Stand as guests of the GAA.[36] Donegal singer Mickey Joe Harte sang Ireland's national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, before the match.[37] In the All-Ireland Minor Football Championship Final, held just before the senior game, Laois and Dublin drew, each side scoring 1–11 (14 points).[38]

The starting line-ups for the senior game were released several days before the match; both sides chose to start with the same fifteen players that had started their respective semi-final wins.[39] Peter Canavan had recovered sufficiently from the ankle injury he sustained during Tyrone's semi-final[40] to captain them.[39] He was the only player in their starting line-up who had played in the county's last All-Ireland final.[39] Ciaran Gourley, who was also an injury concern for Tyrone, was deemed fit enough to play.[39] Brian McGuigan was suffering from the flu but started.[7] Armagh had no injury concerns[39] and twelve of their starting fifteen had played in the final the previous year – only Paul Hearty, Andy Mallon and Phillip Loughran were debutants,[39]

Match report[edit]

Both sides played defensively[41] which led many commentators to bemoan the poor quality of the match.[42][43] There were frequent pauses for injuries and accusations of diving.[41] However, some analysts commented on the genuine desire to win both teams displayed.[43] Numerous goal opportunities were missed, most notably by Tyrone,[43] although only a block from Conor Gormley prevented Steven McDonnell from equalising for Armagh in the 68th minute.[42][43] Tyrone led 0–08 – 0–04 at half-time;[44] five of their points were scored by Peter Canavan from frees.[44] He was replaced during the interval due to a relapse of his ankle injury during training,[43] although he did return to the pitch for the final few minutes.[42] Diarmuid Marsden was controversially sent off in the second half following an off-the-ball incident,[43] leaving Armagh with only fourteen players. Marsden had been arguing with Conor Gormley when he was approached by Philip Jordan.[43] Marsden raised his arm and made contact with Jordan, who fell to the ground.[43] Some commentators claimed Jordan was feigning injury to get his opponent sent off.[45] Armagh managed to stay within two points of Tyrone at times[42] but were ultimately unable to catch Tyrone. At the final whistle, Tyrone fans invaded the pitch and remained there for an hour.[46] In his speech after lifting the trophy, Peter Canavan dedicated the victory to every Tyrone team he had played on, the 1986 team (beaten in the final by Kerry) and every player who had played on teams without success.[47] He also spoke of his father, who had died over the summer,[47] and of Paul McGirr, who had played alongside many of the Tyrone team before he died in a freak accident aged 18.[47][48]

Match details[edit]

28 September 2003
Armagh colours.PNG
0–09 – 0–12 Tyrone
Derry colours.PNG
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)
Croke Park, Dublin
Attendance: 79,391[49]
Referee: Brian White
Armagh kit
Tyrone kit
1 Paul Hearty
2 Francie Bellew YC
3 Enda McNulty
4 Andy Mallon Substituted off
5 Aidan O'Rourke
6 Kieran McGeeney (Captain) YC
7 Andy McCann
8 Philip Loughran YC
9 Paul McGrane
10 Rónán Clarke Substituted off
11 John McEntee Substituted off
12 Oisín McConville
13 Steven McDonnell
14 Diarmuid Marsden Substituted off Substituted in Red card
15 Tony McEntee
Paddy McKeever Substituted in YC
Kieran Hughes Substituted in
Barry O'Hagan Substituted in
Joe Kernan
1 John Devine
2 Ciaran Gourley Substituted off
3 Cormac McAnallen YC
4 Ryan McMenamin
5 Conor Gormley Substituted off YC
6 Gavin Devlin
7 Philip Jordan
8 Kevin Hughes YC
9 Sean Cavanagh
10 Brian Dooher
11 Brian McGuigan Substituted off Substituted in YC
12 Gerard Cavlan Substituted off
13 Enda McGinley
14 Peter Canavan (Captain) Substituted off Substituted in YC
15 Eoin Mulligan
Stephen O'Neill Substituted in
Colin Holmes Substituted in
Chris Lawn Substituted in
Mickey Harte



Northern Ireland Secretary of State Paul Murphy congratulated Tyrone on their victory.[36] 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.[51] 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."[52]

Crowds gathered across Tyrone the following day to celebrate the arrival of the Sam Maguire Cup. The players' homecoming began at Aughnacloy before moving on to Ballygawley[36] and Omagh, where upwards of 40,000 fans gathered.[53] Despite their defeat, Armagh were greeted by hundreds of fans on the Louth–Armagh border on their return.[54]

Armagh manager Joe Kernan claimed he would have resigned had his side won[52] but defeat encouraged him to continue.[52] 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."[52] He added that he was confident Armagh would win another title in the future.[52] Of 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."[52]

The match received extensive media coverage in Northern Ireland, especially from the predominantly nationalist Irish News.[55] The Belfast Telegraph dedicated several pages to the match the following day, including the front and back covers,[55] whereas The News Letter, a largely unionist publication,[55] had sparse coverage,[55] highlighting traditional attitudes to Gaelic games in Northern Ireland.[55]

About a week after the final, a family in Coleraine were targeted in an allegedly sectarian attack, thought to be because they were flying a Tyrone GAA flag from their home.[56]

Two years later, Peter Canavan's return from injury as a substitute in the final ten minutes finished 14th in RTÉ's 2005 series Top 20 GAA Moments.[57]

Match controversies[edit]

Joe Kernan was adamant that Diarmuid Marsden did not deserve to be sent off[52] and criticised players for pretending to be injured during the game.[52] 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."[52] Kernan and Marsden contested the decision and subsequent ban, but the GAA's Games Administration Committee upheld the penalty.[58] However, after taking their case to the Central Council, the ban was overturned.[59]


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  3. ^ a b Regan, Claire (27 September 2003). "History in making as Red and Orange set for throw-in". Belfast Telegraph. 
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  30. ^ Regan, Claire (15 August 2003). "Ulster GAA fans' huge cash boost for Dublin". Belfast Telegraph. 
  31. ^ "Call to stop painting road signs". Belfast Telegraph. 20 September 2003. 
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  58. ^ O'Riordan, Ian (14 November 2003). "Marsden's case to go further". The Irish Times. p. 24. 
  59. ^ Moran, Sean (8 December 2003). "Marsden wins appeal over ban". The Irish Times. p. 54.