Pat Spillane admits he made an error in condemning Tyrone for playing “puke football” in beating Kerry on their way to winning the 2003 All-Ireland title, writes John Fogarty.
As Tyrone open the defence of their Ulster crown in Derry this Sunday, the eight-time All-Ireland winner believes Mickey Harte’s side were a revolutionary force and now takes pride in how Kerry have taken a leaf from their copybook.
“We always thought what when Kerry got to Croke Park you leave Kerry play football. We should be allowed to play football. And maybe it’s my own fault as well that I criticised Tyrone at the time and puke football and all that.
“What they were doing was spot on because they were the first ever team from Ulster to come to Croke Park and say, ‘We’re not going to stand back and admire these boys. We’re going to get into them.’ And they did and they upset us and we didn’t like it.
“We still don’t like it and maybe I would accept criticism that I didn’t give them the credit they deserved for their All-Ireland victory, which was well deserved.
“What I saw at the time was an evolution in Gaelic football where you suddenly realised it was about defending and stopping teams from playing to their strengths and that’s carried on since. We’ve allowed Dublin to play the game on their terms.”
However, Spillane noticed that in their two league games against Dublin that Kerry decided enough was enough.
“I don’t want to hark back to when I played but in ’75 we won the All-Ireland. In ’76 and ’77 we were beaten by the Dubs and we were bullied out of it fair or foul. When the Dubs fouled you, Jesus, they fouled you. You knew it. They knocked the stuffing out of you.
“When we fouled, they were innocent fouls. A pull of the jersey. We didn’t lay down a marker.
“It’s well documented at this stage but in early ’78 we played a charity challenge game in New York for Sister Concilia’s Home for Alcoholics.
Mick O’Dwyer said, “We need to lay down a marker. We need to show we are not going to be bullied.” And, you know what, we did. We fought fire with fire. It was violent stuff. I broke my nose.
“You look at Kerry this year. Against Monaghan, against Mayo, they were bullied out of it and they had been bullied out of it physically and mentally by Dublin.
“This year, in the final and in Tralee, they weren’t and the Dubs didn’t like it.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.