Tyrone’s players were initially divided on the decision to withdraw from their rescheduled All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry as Covid-19 rocked the Red Hand camp.
Speaking on the GAA Social, players Niall Morgan and Conor Meyler revealed the team had an open discussion about whether or not they wanted to fulfil the fixture, which was eventually played on 28 August.
There were over 20 Covid cases within the panel, with one player hospitalised by the virus.
Tyrone’s decision to withdraw from the fixture, after the GAA pushed it back a week as opposed to the two requested by the Ulster champions, prompted Croke Park to move the fixture again in order to prevent the semi-final from not going ahead.
Joint-managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher revealed the decision to their squad after training on the day of the first semi-final between Dublin and Mayo, inviting a lengthy discussion among the players.
“Everybody was sitting about the grass. It was a tough session and the whole backroom team came over, we thought it was just the usual round-up but Brian and Feargal hit us with ‘we’ve got medical backing that we shouldn’t be playing’,” said goalkeeper Morgan.
“A few of the the boys started to stand up and move in a little bit. A few of them said ‘no we’re playing’, and there were a few boys probably thinking ‘no this is my opportunity to play, I haven’t played much this year’ but we did decide as a team that it was best we didn’t play.”
Morgan also revealed that it was a question posed by his Edendork clubmate Darren McCurry that drove home the severity of the issue that saw nearly 50% of the panel unable to fully train in the week leading up to the rescheduled date.
“[He is] one of the lads who wouldn’t speak much in huddles, stood up and said ‘if somebody drops on this pitch, who’s to blame?’ and I think that made everybody sort of take a step back and think,” Morgan recalled.
“I play with him at the club, I was sure he was going to say ‘we’re playing this game’. Darren lives for football, for him to say that was harrowing I suppose.
“All the evidence was there. Some people agree, some people disagree and everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.
“Some players agreed some disagreed, but we did it as a team and I think that’s the most important thing that we’ve had all year. Everything we’ve done, we’ve had the full backing of the whole team and we’ve done it together.”
‘Boys were very, very sick’
Tyrone went on to defeat Kerry in extra-time of a dramatic semi-final before claiming their fourth All-Ireland SFC title by defeating Mayo in Sunday’s final.
The triumph was an improbable end to a season that came close to being totally derailed by the Covid outbreak during which Meyler and Morgan were among those to test positive, although neither developed severe symptoms.
The Red Hands came under scrutiny for how the virus had managed to make its way into the panel, but maintain that they followed all protocols rigidly in an attempt to minimise the risk of such an outbreak.
“From the start of the year we did everything by the book,” said Meyler.
“We weren’t meeting up, we were all meeting on zoom… then when we got back there were no changing rooms. There were nights where it was raining and you were getting changed outside, trying to get gazebos up.
“We were getting tested at training and there were boys getting told ‘you’ve to isolate, you’ve to go home, you’ve to go and get a proper test’, and the boys were very serious.
“The problem was some boys were so badly hit with it, and there were so many, that it was totally genuine when Feargal and Brian said ‘we’re pulling from this because your health is more important’.
“Boys were very sick. Very sick, for a long time. I saw within my own house how badly my ones were hit.”
Listen to this week’s GAA Social with All-Ireland winners Conor Meyler and Niall Morgan on BBC Sounds soons