Tigerish Tiernan McCann refuses to lie down

When it ended, Tiernan McCann slumped to his knees and hunkered down, rooted to the one spot for a solid two minutes before the weight of disappointment lifted enough for him to raise his head and eyes from the Croke Park turf.

He was there in the thick of it when Maurice Deegan called for the ball, scurrying around the edge of a huddle of players that were jostling for a loose ball.

As a snapshot, it was a truer reflection of the player he is than those pictures of him lying prone on the ground after Darren Hughes ruffled his hair, or the snaps of the aftermath that showed him standing limp amid a forest of enraged Monaghan players who bumped and barged him.

His dive in that quarter-final was held up as all that is wrong with the modern game and there is no doubt but that the mad hair and the yellow boots only embellished the canvas on which that image was painted in the last few weeks.

The thing is, though, McCann is the embodiment of so much else that makes for the modern game. His was a roving brief again yesterday: he was a right-half back, an extra sweeper, an auxiliary attacker.

He started at right-half back, shadowing Stephen O’Brien for the opening jousts, and yet he was already off fulfilling a different role by the time the Kerry forward claimed his two points in the first-half. He was here, he was there, he was everywhere.

More than once he abandoned his supposed man to rush to the aid of a fellow defender: most obviously in the first minute when he saw that David Moran was framing himself to send a long ball in down on Justin McMahon and Kieran Donaghy.

Before long he was galloping upfield, laying off a pop pass to a colleague before being met with a thundering shoulder by Peter Crowley that sent him lurching to the floor. This time there was no lingering and he was up in a split second to go again.

One foray in the second-half ended with a skidding shimmy that saw him go to ground yet again and cough up possession. The ironic cheer it elicited from those wearing green was considerable, though it didn’t match the volume of roar that greeted his name from Tyrone fans before throw-in.

Two other balls were spilled to a Kerry man, but McCann was for the most part a metronomic link in the chain, offering himself for possession, taking the ball on and spoon-feeding a simple pass on to the next man in line. Again, very much the modern player.

It may be called football, but he hardly kicked it all day. When he did it almost paid enormous dividends. As was the case when he lobbed in a piercing high ball in towards Conor McAliskey that had Brendan Kealy scrambling.

More obvious was the run 51 minutes in through the centre of Kerry’s defence when his pass to Pádraig McNulty spilled back into his path and his left-footed prod scampered a foot or two wide of Kealy’s left post.

What a story that would have been.

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