Former Tyrone goalkeeper Pascal McConnell reflects on the Armagh-Tyrone rivalry during the peak years of the early noughties.
The sides clashed in the championship six times between 2002 and 2005. McConnell was between the sticks for the Red Hands famous victory in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.
“It was massive. We reflect very fondly on it because yes, the rivalry was there, not only vying for Ulster honours but two teams vying for All-Ireland honours as well.”
“Throw into the mix, obviously you maybe had to encounter the Dubs along the way. And also, you had the third force that was very big at that time also which was Kerry.”
“Tyrone and Armagh, they were two big fish in a small pond in Ulster because either one was winning it or the other.”
“Obviously, Tyrone had won more Ulster’s than Tyrone in that period. And set quite an impressive record in Ulster.”
“It was exciting times. The games were fascinating ties and you do remember fondly the rivalry that was there.”
“A point to note was a particular McKenna Cup game which attracted almost 20,000 to Casement Park in the midst of winter.”
“It really showed how big that rivalry was and how it got the attention of the whole of Ulster in a sense.”
Not hatred but respect
While hatred is a word used to describe the rivalry, it’s not one that the Newtownstewart shot stopper likes to refer to.
Instead, McConnell speaks about the respect he shared for some of Armagh heroes during that golden age.
“It has been touched on my certain players that were involved in that era. I know from a personal sense I would never have, hatred or anything like that would never have entered my own mind.”
“I think it was one of great respect. Especially coming in at the young age of 23, on to the senior panel in Tyrone.”
“Growing up having watched the likes of Kieran McGeeney, Paul McGrane, the McEntee brothers and Diarmuid Marsden and Oisin McConville, you had such great respect and admiration for them lads and what they’ve achieved.”
“They (Armagh) went through barren years, as Tyrone did too. The way they kept coming back and coming back and obviously reached the Holy Grail in 2002.”
“You had absolute admiration and respect for them guys and to just suddenly turn round and ‘I hate these boys’, your kind of going ‘I’ve been watching these boys since I was a young lad’.
“Growing up through my teenage years and seeing what they were doing for the county. The performances they were putting in and the way they acquitted themselves.”
“And knowing them now obviously in a personal sense, they’re a great bunch of lads. The respect was always there. Hatred? No, it never entered my mind.”
“Yes, there was a will to win on both sides. Some days Armagh came out on top, some days Tyrone came out on top. It boded well for the rivalry that was there and it made it really exciting.”