KIERAN SHANNON: Open book Cathal McCarron gives us new insight into Tyrone

It says a lot about just how explosive a book Cathal McCarron has written that there’s been barely mention of just how explosive some of its football passages are.

In all the attention and condemnation that he and the book has received — addict, brilliant, ill-timed, asshole, an inspiration — the football has been completely overlooked.

On one hand that’s understandable — his football is not the story. But there are still football stories within it and fascinating ones as well which makes it surprising that virtually none of them have been picked up by the GAA media.

One of the most astonishing passages is his recall of the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final between Tyrone and Monaghan, a game now infamously remembered for the Tiernan McCann hair and dive incident. At the time we all had an idea of the nastiness that permeated that game. Reading McCarron’s account of that match though just underlines just how low some parties were willing to go to try to win. We could only see what was going on. We couldn’t hear what was going on.

McCarron is sure that he was targeted during that game, the verbals at him were sustained throughout those 70 minutes.

McCarron, as we all know by now, once resorted to gay porn, though he purports to be straight, to feed his gambling addiction. In that film-shoot he played a character called Fergus. He was supposed to be Fergus for that day only but lippy opponents continuously drag that day back up and no one did it more regularly and systematically than the Monaghan team that day.

He names four different insults he received out on the field from his opponents, of which “Get off the field, you gay f**ker” was about the least offensive.

“I lost all respect for some of the Monaghan players that day,” he writes, “but the most hurtful moment of all arrived when someone who I thought was my friend seemed to sink to the same level.”

He then goes on to speak about his regard over the years for Ryan Porter. Porter trained McCarron’s club Dromore to several county championships before joining Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan setup. But McCarron claims that in that tempestuous 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final up in Croke Park, Porter encroached onto the field and when McCarron told him to get off it, Porter shot back, “What’s it to you, Fergus?”

As McCarron observes, Porter immediately regretted what he said. A few minutes later he would go back onto the field to be within earshot of McCarron. “I overstepped the mark there,” he’d concede.

McCarron didn’t accept his apology — and still doesn’t. “Championship football is dog-eat-dog stuff but even in the middle of battle I still expected some form of loyalty from a friend. Ryan knew exactly what he was doing. He tried to hurt me. He would have known more than any other member of that Monaghan setup what I had been through, of how sick I had been to put myself in the position I did... It was like a member of my family delivering those words. I would have died for that man.”

McCarron himself says he doesn’t really resort to trash-talking. I’ve always been more comfortable emptying a boy with a shoulder than with malicious words.”

He’d like for verbal abuse to be penalised. In this year’s first round championship match against Derry, he says he was verbally abused right in front of the referee. “G’way, McCarron and ride a man. Fuck off this pitch and do more porn.”

“According to the rule book, verbal abuse to an opponent or teammate is a black card. Why is nobody ever sent off for that offence? The referee may say he didn’t hear it, but referees should know exactly what’s going on. Especially when it comes to my situation. When has a player ever been cautioned for saying something vicious to me? Never. Referees have heard what was said but they have never taken any action. They haven’t the balls.”

There is plenty of more such insights within Out of Control. Its ghostwriter, Christy O’Connor, has previously written three of the best hurling books ever — Last Man Standing, The Club, and Dalo — and now in telling McCarron’s story he also brings inside the big ball game.

McCarron’s account of this year’s championship, particularly the Ulster final victory and subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo, is fascinating. At half-time in Croke Park, he let fly at his teammates. “Boys, what the fuck is going on here? Lads are playing with fear... Are boys hiding here or what? Are you scared? What the fuck is going on?”

It probably wasn’t the most helpful intervention — only increasing instead of reducing any over-anxiety — but it was definitely a vivid one.

This book brings us inside the Tyrone dressing room in which probably the most telling dynamic is just how much Mickey Harte continues to command it and the hearts of his players. The day of every game they all kneel together for the rosary, from Harte the pioneer and model family man to McCarron, the tattoo-covered, absentee father, one-time porn actor.

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Another striking part of the book and its subsequent publicity is the support Harte has offered McCarron. Virtually any other manager would have discarded McCarron, concluding long ago he just wasn’t worth all the hassle. But Harte has continued to forgive him his trespasses. Whether McCarron will ever come to forgive Porter.

Like so much else about McCarron, that story may not be finished, even after the publication of this compelling book.


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