Mickey Harte defends ‘victim’ Sean Cavanagh

Mayo 0-13 Tyrone 0-12: The controversial dismissal of Tyrone legend Seán Cavanagh, and not the manner of Mayo’s progression to the last four of the Championship, dominated the post mortems in Croke Park on Saturday night.
Mickey Harte defends ‘victim’ Sean Cavanagh

The general consensus after this encounter was that Cavanagh was extremely unlucky to be sent off for a second yellow card in the 59th minute.

Certainly, that second one seemed desperately harsh, while the first came at the end of a tussle with his full-time shadow Lee Keegan, who was also cautioned, as the teams returned to the pitch before the second half.

Cavanagh spent much of the day appealing to the officials that he was at the receiving end of illegal off-the-ball treatment.

Mickey Harte insisted that his captain had never started a scuffle and claimed that though he didn’t see what occurred that led to the exchange, he could be certain that the long-serving Moy legend was entitled to feel aggrieved as he an innocent party.

Stephen Rochford faced the press subsequently and insisted that Cavanagh had not been targeted for attention, and then questioned early challenges from Tyrone players on Diarmuid O’Connor.

He could have referred to the constant goading and no-ball shoulder challenges Aidan O’Shea was subjected to.

This is the game and if the message isn’t being delivered in words, a whatever-it-takes approach is naturally adopted to curb the threat of opposition danger men.

Harte reported Cavanagh to be distraught.

“I know this for sure, Sean Cavanagh doesn’t go looking for cards, never did in his whole career,” said the emotional Tyrone boss.

“It seems a shame that he would be victim to somebody else enticing him into that arena.”

“He doesn’t go looking for anything, I can say that for sure with no fear of contradiction.

“It seems a shame that a man at this stage of his career, who has given so much to the game, can fall victim to that kind of stuff. “Officials make decisions, and this thing of ‘there’s always two involved’…There isn’t. It’s always somebody starts it.”

“They need to be more tuned into who starts these things.”

Later on, the Mayo boss had a different view.

“Maybe Mickey was watching it but he came out after me and I didn’t see it” came the Rochford response.

“I can categorically tell you that there was no Tyrone player targeted in the Mayo dressing room. Was Diarmuid O’Connor targeted in the first two or three minutes if anyone wants to go down that line? Lee Keegan or any Mayo player was not under instruction to target any player.”

Cavanagh had been completely anonymous but the loss was considerable nonetheless, given the countless times he has come up with big plays in the dying moments of games.

Probably the most critical moment had arrived 11 minutes before that though, as Mattie Donnelly, who had kicked three classy first-half points, found Connor McAliskey with a deftly-executed foot-pass.

McAliskey spun as he collected in behind the Mayo defence but David Clarke advanced well to make the save and the ball rebounded to safety.

In an arm wrestle of this nature, a goal would have been definitive and it was the only three-point opportunity of the game.

Tyrone did follow with points from McAliskey and the magnificent Peter Harte to take the lead but Keegan hit back immediately to restore parity.

In all, they were level on eight occasions, including at the break on 0-7 each, as Mayo set up really solidly and forced Tyrone to kick some bad wides.

Rochford’s crew looked more assured than at any stage this term and they produced what was undoubtedly their best performance of a stuttering campaign.

Colm Boyle and Kevin McLoughlin were outstanding in the defensive zones, while O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor worked tirelessly and produced some big scores and general contributions.

In the end, Keegan capitalised on the freedom from marking duties to slot what turned out to be the winner five minutes from time but despite being a man down, Tyrone carved out three good opportunities but none were availed of and Mayo prevailed.

MAYO: D Clarke, B Harrison, L Keegan (0-2), K Higgins, K McLoughlin, C Boyle, P Durcan, A O’Shea (0-1), S O’Shea, A Dillon, J Doherty, D Vaughan, D O’Connor, A Moran (0-2), C O’Connor (0-6, 3 frees).

Subs: T Parsons for Dillon (ht), C O’Shea for Vaughan (54), C Barrett for Boyle (58), E Regan for Moran (62), C Loftus for Doherty (66), S Coen for D O’Connor inj (69)

TYRONE: N Morgan, C McCarron, R McNamee, A McCrory, T McCann, J McMahon, P Harte (0-4, 1 free), M Donnelly (0-3), C Cavanagh, C McShane, N Sludden (0-1), R McNabb, C McAliskey (0-2 frees), S Cavanagh, R O’Neill (0-1 free).

Subs: R Brennan for McMahon (23), D McCurry (0-1 free) for O’Neill (43), M Bradley for McShane (46), K McGeary for McAliskey (62), J Moore for McNabb (66), P McNulty for Sludden (69)

Referee: D Gough (Meath).

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