First All-Ireland Senior Final, 1986

The 1980s and 1990s began to see the reaping of the harvest so diligently sown by generations of tenacious GAA enthusiasts over the preceding decades. In the 1980s alone, Tyrone won three Ulster senior titles – as many as they had managed since they rejoined inter-county competition in 1923. The first of these came in 1984, when Tyrone defeated Armagh by 0-15 to 1-7 at Clones. The game is chiefly remembered for the performance of Frank McGuigan, who, in a virtuoso display, scored eleven points from play – five with his right foot, five with his left, and one with his fist. Unfortunately, Tyrone were beaten by Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final in an untidy and forgettable game.

Two years later, Tyrone went one step further. Having defeated Down by 1-11 to 0-10 in the Ulster final, Tyrone accounted for Galway by 1-12 to 1-9. They thus booked their first appearance in an All-Ireland final against Kerry, who were seeking their third Sam Maguire victory in succession and their thirtieth in all. In an absorbing game, Tyrone led early in the second half by 1-8 to 0-4, thanks to an excellently taken goal by Paudge Quinn. Kerry rallied, however; Tyrone lost their captain, Eugene McKenna, through injury, and the reigning champions recovered to win the day by 2-15 to 1-10.

This defeat was a bitter disappointment for everyone in Tyrone. However, the events of 1986, combined with their third Ulster title of the decade in 1989, raised aspirations in Tyrone. The convincing display against Kerry in the All-Ireland final, and the winning of three provincial titles in six years, meant that it was no longer fanciful to view Tyrone as potential All-Ireland champions. The cherished dream seemed closer than ever to realisation.

This sentiment made the events of the 1989 and the early 1990s particularly disappointing. In 1989, after a strong run in Ulster which culminated in a replay win in the final over Cavan by 2-13 to 0-7, Tyrone faced Mayo in the semi-final. In a game they could easily have won, Tyrone again surprisingly surrendered their lead and Mayo won by 0-12 to 1-6.