JOHN FOGARTY: Hurling the loser when apologists rule

Trevor Hogan is a Tipperary man. His background is rugby. On those two counts, some may disqualify him from commenting on the defeat of his county but they shouldn’t.

On Sunday, he saw something in John Hanbury’s penalty foul tackle on Seamus Callanan he recognised from his own sport. The former Munster and Leinster second-row didn’t make use of rugby’s often bombastic lexicon to describe it, but he couldn’t believe it when Barry Kelly issued Hanbury with a caution.

“What a game,” he tweeted, attaching a photograph of the incident. “Galway were class. But can’t believe this only got a yellow card. A clear red, even in rugby.”

In some places, the foul has been likened to a spear tackle but, technically, it’s not. A spear tackle involves a player being lifted by his opponent and dropped onto his head, back or neck. Hanbury did put Callanan on his head in a most dangerous and desperate fashion but the Tipperary forward was on his feet when he was brought down.

It was in fact closer to what is termed a “slam tackle” in Australian Rules football parlance, a practice which was outlawed in the AFL six years ago. Having his arms pinned and his hands occupied by the hurley and ball, Callanan was unable to brace himself as his head struck the ground, leaving him dazed for minutes afterwards.

It was in the same class as that awful wrap-and-fling tackle by Danyle Pearce on Graham Geraghty in the second test of the 2006 International Rules, which hospitalised the Meath man. But it should also have stirred memories of Sean Cavanagh’s cynicism in bringing down Conor McManus two years ago. Callanan had taken Galway for 3-4 from play. A fourth goal would have likely spelt curtains. He simply had to be stopped.

Clearly, Hanbury was only too happy to concede a penalty. Given the poorer-than-expected conversion rate with the new one-on-one arrangement, there may have been some method in his madness. The new hurling penalty could be as disappointing as the black card in Gaelic football has been as a deterrent to foul play.

The taking of the penalty, not the viciousness of the tackle, was all that exercised and entertained The Sunday Game panel. “It’s a tough tackle,” said Anthony Daly, a contender for euphemism of the season. “He (Callanan) hits the ground fairly hard. He is down on the ground for approximately two minutes, I think, roughly we can say. He looks fairly rattled at this stage. Was it the right decision to let him hit the penalty? To me, it looked a very tired shot.”

Henry Shefflin agreed with Daly, saying of Callanan’s decision to take the penalty: “I don’t like that because your focus is on taking frees.”

Dónal Óg Cusack then weighed in: “Just look at Seamie’s head here and the impact on the ground. That’s a serious belt to get into the head. Bubbles (O’Dwyer) actually had the ball in his hand and I was saying ‘look, would I let Bubbles take this?’ It was a drawn game at the time. While he still got a bit of power into it, it was a very timid shot, lads.”

Callanan was extremely fortunate not to have been concussed by Hanbury’s determination to play the man and not the ball. As Hogan indicates, a dismissal and suspension would have been the end result in rugby. That’s rugby, the game that has so far failed miserably to address its concussion problem. But hurling being hurling, and hurling analysts so regularly being hurling apologists, nothing was mentioned of the tackle’s severity. In a way, it’s almost understandable after such a dismal season nobody wants to taint the best game thus far nor a Galway win sculpted by guts and graft. But there was an abdication of responsibility on the panel’s behalf not to underline just how much peril Callanan was put in. Hurling is a man’s game but such desperation should have no place in it.

Football folk will have looked on and wonder why hurling is again treated to such laissez-faire analysis when similar incidents in the bigger ball game are subject to forensic analysis and scathing criticism.

Meanwhile, Tyrone supporters’ entrenched view on RTÉ will only be copper-fastened by what they will interpret as more inequality from the national broadcasters. Only the week before, Walter Walsh attempted to buy a free. To be fair to him, he had previously been denied a stonewall free by Brian Gavin when Stephen O’Keeffe manhandled the Kilkenny forward. Yet it didn’t detract from the fact he had engaged in an act of feigning. The narrative often written by former players and managers is that hurling is beyond reproach when it quite frequently hits base levels.

It bears repeating football and hurling are no more sister sports than American football and rugby. However, there is no excuse for a lack of consistency in commentary.

The Sunday Game’s panels are indeed at polar extremities. If football analysts are hunters, their hurling colleagues, for all their tactical nous, remain gamekeepers. Neither do the respective games any favours when they take such stances.

Munster champions victims of own success

Hurling the loser when apologists rule

Eamon O’Shea’s tenure deserves to be remembered for more than a statistic, but that’s how things ended up at least.

Another Munster-winning team vanquished in an All-Ireland semi-final, the sixth in 10 years not to reach the final.

In this newspaper last October, Munster chairman Robert Frost said the council were considering doing something to assist their senior hurling winners. He didn’t go into specifics but scheduling was a consideration.

“We were close enough to having champions this year in Tipperary but there is a concern about how Munster champions have been doing later in the competition.

Any decision that will be made must come into force before any ball is struck next year. There is no point in it at all really if nothing happens as soon as is possible to help our counties.”

Anyone watching on Sunday would have appreciated Galway, a team playing their sixth game, were sharper than Tipperary, a side in only their third outing. Galway’s superior hooks/blocks/tackles numbers bore that out.

Kilkenny’s success may have been an excuse but not any more. As good as they remain, they are not the force of old. Much like the Ulster football championship has been these last four seasons, Munster champions have been victims of their own success. Sprinting to standstill. Told to hurry up and wait. It’s time for action in Castletroy.

Pushing back the Munster final a week might seem a small tweak, but it could make all the difference.

Knee-jerk reaction to McCann

Hurling the loser when apologists rule

If, as it has been suggested, the Central Competitions Control Committee’s (CCCC) proposed eight-week ban handed to Tiernan McCann is a test case against cheating, then it really is time to despair.

The GAA has regularly been castigated as a reactionary organisation but the decision to slap McCann with this disrepute violation was a most knee-jerk response to an issue they have been blind to for some time now. The debate created by McCann’s act last Saturday week was more than enough to put simulation at the top of the agenda. It didn’t require the CCCC to come up with a trumped-up charge against the Tyrone player to show they suddenly care about a practice that hasn’t previously been punished in such a draconian fashion.

In their desperation to show they suddenly care about an ailment of Gaelic football, the GAA have made a cock-up. But will they acknowledge that when, as expected, McCann is free to play against Kerry?

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie 

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