A Trip to Omagh

April 10th, 2013
by Brendan O'Sullivan

It was the seventh and last League match of 2013, Kerry playing Tyrone in Omagh. We had been to four games, endured rain in Castlebar, snow in Ballybofey, and enjoyed sunshine in Newbridge. We had seen the Old Firm, Dublin and Kerry, play in Killarney. Four games, four defeats, with only the narrow loss to Kildare giving hope for the future. But we had missed victories against Down and Cork- and Kerry could still stay in Division One if they defeated Tyrone and results elsewhere were favourable.

We left Dublin in mid-morning. Driving through Monaghan, sandwiched between two slow-moving vehicles, we were passed by a jeep bearing the Radio Kerry logo. It was then a case of "follow that jeep", it must be going where we're going, no need now to consult the map. We crossed into Northern Ireland, through Aughnacloy and the next town was Omagh. Although we were there to attend a football match, the name Omagh always conjures up images of the carnage inflicted on that town in August 1998. We followed the jeep into the town, along part of the main street, scene of that horrific bombing, then a left turn to the outskirts of town.

The jeep led us to the Silver Birch hotel, meeting place for Kerry supporters. We exchanged a few words with Radio Kerry personnel and then joined our friends, fellow-supporters whom we met at matches in every corner of Ireland. Among them was my cousin from Tralee who was enthusiastic about the Kerry GAA Car Raffle which was about to get under way. He was one of the main organisers, the prizes were good, tickets were inexpensive and he was looking for assistance in selling them. 

 The walk to Healy Park took five minutes. We found seats close to the halfway line, but nearer to what turned out to be the scoring goal. An underage camogie match was in progress. The elaborate programme, whose cover bizarrely featured a photo of a Tyrone-Dublin encounter, contained articles on the history between Tyrone and Kerry. The warm reception given to Mickey Harte in Killarney last July was stressed and the hope was there that the poison which had embittered the relationship in recent years would now evolve into respect. Certainly, the Tyrone supporters in our immediate vicinity were friendly.

When the match started, there was no animosity, either in the stands or on the field. Some of the friendly people nearby turned into fanatical fans, but they were pro-Tyrone, not anti-Kerry. They had nothing to cheer about in the first half, as the Kerry team turned in their best performance for a long time. Tomas O'Se and Colm Cooper starred as Kerry raced into a 1-13 to 0-5 lead at half-time. But Kerry were helped by a strong wind, and Tyrone, already in the League semi-final, played without any intensity.

 There seemed to be no way back for Tyrone. Assuming Kerry would  win, they needed Mayo or Donegal to drop points. I tuned in to the radio sports programme. Donegal were ahead of Dublin but Mayo and Cork were level. The second half resumed and Tyrone edged their way back on the scoreboard. An early goal helped them to eat into Kerry's lead. But I remained confident that Kerry would hold on and was more focused on the other matches. Donegal still held their lead against Dublin and, as Dublin were qualified for the semi-final and Donegal were playing to retain their place in Division One, I had little hope that Donegal would relinquish their lead. Cork led Mayo by a point and this match looked more likely to end in a favourable result. In front of me, Tyrone dominated and had cut the margin to four points. Some Kerry substitutions made a difference. The game entered Injury time and Tyrone scored a goal despite desperate defence. But the final whistle blew immediately, Kerry had won by a point and attention turned to events elsewhere. Mayo had drawn level with Cork and taken the lead. That match ended so Mayo were ahead of Kerry in the League table. Donegal still led Dublin by two points so it seemed that Kerry were destined for Division 2. I checked on the counties we might be visiting in 2014- Laois, Louth, Galway, Armagh, Meath, Monaghan. Tyrone supporters were sympathetic as we made our way out of the stadium. But wait-Dublin had scored a point and were only one behind. A draw would do us-too much to hope for! Then, dramatically, another Dublin point-and the game in Ballybofey was over. Donegal were down and Kerry had survived in Division One, saved by the Dubs!

A relieved and contented group walked back to the hotel. Three cars departed on the long journey home to Kerry. We had a relatively short trip to Dublin. It had been a good day. We looked forward to the championship.

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