“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever”
— Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton.
I love when I hear this talk about Kerry being the most cynical team in the country. If you were still pedalling that notion this week, you obviously weren’t watching Tyrone and Monaghan last Saturday.
Now, we know GAA supporters of all counties are a blinkered bunch. For the most part, their eyes only allow them to see they want to see, completely blind to anything but their flawless county colours.
They operate under strict guidelines to vehemently protect their own players at all costs, even if all reasonable thought would suggest doing otherwise. In that world, your own players are never at fault. Not once.
It must be the referee, the weather, the opposition, the media… there’s always someone else to blame, and they’re all against you. It’s a siege. Only they themselves are privately allowed to criticise their own, but ‘outsiders’ are not extended the same privilege.
Once the hysteria around Tiernan McCann’s hair ruffle died down, all I’ve heard since, is how the Red Hand are victims of an anti-Tyrone, southern-biased media campaign who are doing their very best to vilify and burn them at a figurative stake outside Croke Park. What absolute nonsense.
I fully appreciate this will probably be seen as an inflammatory piece given the context of a Kerry man writing about our semi-final opponents in a fortnight’s time.
I’m sure I may be accused of trying to influence a prospective referee, and bring even more heat and scrutiny down on top of Tyrone.
Nonetheless, a line must be drawn, and what we saw in Croke Park from Tyrone last weekend was to any fair-minded GAA supporter; unequivocally damaging to the integrity of our game.
Back in 2008, Kerry played Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final and Aidan O’Mahony got involved in a heated altercation with Donncha O’Connor. The Cork man slapped O’Mahony with an open hand across the face with minimal force and sent the hardy Rathmore defender back-pedalling to the turf, holding his jaw as though he had been caught with a sharp right hook from Mike Tyson in his prime.
It was embarrassing. Cringeworthy.
O’Mahony quickly realised what he did and jumped up to his feet, but it was too late. The damage was done. He had deceived the referee in the few seconds it took him to fall to the canvas, and in doing so, he had damaged the integrity of the jersey he was wearing and the game as a whole.
He was slaughtered afterwards countrywide. But the Kerry supporters circled the wagons around their man, much like the protection the Tyrone people are affording young McCann this week.
Aidan didn’t need a reminding of his responsibilities the following week, but he got it anyway, from within our group and from outside it.
It was an isolated incident from O’Mahony, sandwiched in between a career of honesty. But it did happen, and it is always there lurking below the All Stars and All-Irelands, something he can never fully eradicate from his CV. This week, that clip of him has reappeared on various social media platforms as a sort of riposte from Tyrone supporters, as if one has anything to do with the other.
Michael Shields of Cork was another to take a Ronaldo-esque type dive in this year’s Munster final replay clutching his face after minimal contact in the shoulder from Paul Geaney. It’ll stay with him too.
Tiernan McCann is not the first GAA player to throw himself to the floor in a ridiculous fashion and he won’t be the last either. These decisions are made in split seconds, sometimes your brain fools you into thinking this would be a good idea. It obviously wasn’t.
But his act on Saturday last was more than a just poor snap decision, it seemed to typify a theme of dishonesty and an apparent lack of sportsmanship being displayed by this latest edition of Mickey Harte’s Tyrone all evening long.
The real shame for McCann is, nobody is talking about how exceptional his performance was for the 75 minutes before his black card. He has somehow become a victim within his own county, but a symbol of Tyrones cheating to the rest of the country. But he’s a hell of a footballer to anybody who knows their business.
Just who exactly is going to remind him of his responsibilities to his jersey this week? Who is going to talk to him about his over simulation of fouls? His captain perhaps? Or does anybody up there really care?
Sean Cavanagh is the leader of the Tyrone squad and is a footballer that would grace any team in the land, but his behaviour as alpha male of the group has made it acceptable for his team-mates to act in an unsportsmanlike way. He too went to ground softly after getting brushed by Conor McManus on his way to take a free which was moved forward because Cavanagh himself wouldn’t retreat the requisite distance. He along with substitute Justin McMahon and a few others were the antagonists of the piece all day. It was unpleasant to see one of the greatest players to ever play the game lead his team to victory in such a classless manner.
But make no mistake, Cavanagh was sinned against also; Paul Finlay caught him flush in the face with a nasty closed fist from behind that should have yielded a straight red card for the normally placid Monaghan stalwart. But Cavanagh’s behaviour, and that of his team-mates will always frustrate the opposition into seeking out their own retribution. That’s the whole purpose of their cynicism in the first place. To get a reaction; to frustrate you to the point of throwing a punch and losing your cool.
It’s wasn’t so much McCann’s dive; nor Tyrone’s generally inability to stay on their feet following any type of a challenge, or even their repeated feigning of injury to bring about a more severe refereeing penalty that really irritated… no, it was their constant, almost systematic sledging of Monaghan players that really left a sour taste in the mouth. Of course, this is not the first time we’ve seen this from Tyrone. Not even this year. We know the allegations about their minor team’s sledging, and we saw and heard about some similar verbal exploits by their successful under 21 team this year. They learn what they see.
But it’s beginning to taint them. And it’s beginning to taint Mickey Harte as manager of their senior team. Why would a man so sharp and successful, allow this type of behaviour to breed and fester within his squad. What good could ever come of it. He along with his players must take his portion of responsibility for the perception they have created for themselves and football within their county. His appraisal of the McCann incident on Monday was a long way south of damning, while acknowledging that if Tiernan “had the chance again, he probably would have responded differently”.
To be honest, I just can’t understand their behaviour. For such a talented bunch of young vibrant footballers, it makes no sense to me. The game was won last weekend and they were still getting involved in nonsense in the final 10 minutes that simply detracted from their fantastic performance.
Maybe that was the point... are they that clever? People aren’t talking about how good a football team they are now, we are dissecting all the extra-curricular events.
Whatever the reasoning behind their actions, whether shrewd or not, they are in the last four of the All-Ireland on merit. They were far superior to Monaghan and had no need to engage in any type of negativity.
But if winning Sam Maguire is literally all that matters, you can quickly lose sight of all perspective of acceptable sportsmanship and what legacy you want to leave behind for the next generation of footballers to follow in your footsteps.
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