Martin Breheny: Mirror, mirror on the wall – who is the most cynical team of them all?
Surprisingly, figures show that three other semi-finalists foul more than Tyrone. Martin Breheny looks behind the numbers
TYRONE'S fightback against cynicism claims has received a major boost ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final clash with Mayo.
An Irish Independent study reveals that Tyrone are the only one of the four semi-finalists whose players have been fouled more than they have fouled the opposition in this year's championship.
Our figures show Mayo, Kerry and Dublin have a higher frees-against than frees-for return, albeit very narrowly in the case of the latter two.
However, the Mayo differential is significantly greater, while they also have the highest proportionate foul rate of the four semi-finalists. Mayo's frees-against figure is 14 higher than their frees-for total in their four wins, all of which were achieved easily.
Tyrone have a higher proportion of red and yellow cards than the other three but were involved in closer games, which were always more likely to create flashpoints. Dublin have the lowest average foul and yellow card rate.
Tyrone have been under the spotlight since Sean Cavanagh's goal-saving foul on Monaghan's Conor McManus in the All-Ireland quarter-final, which under rules could only be punished by a yellow card. Joe Brolly's subsequent tirade against Cavanagh turned the focus on Tyrone's approach, much to the annoyance of the camp.
They fought back by circulating a document last week, outlining how they were more sinned against than sinners when it came to fouls, and while their figures for the championship differ from those compiled by the Irish Independent, they all support the Tyrone case.
Our figures show that Tyrone committed 132 fouls in their six games, while they were fouled 140 times. It's a small but significant differential on the plus side for the only semi-finalists that did not win their provincial championship.
Mickey Harte has insisted that negativity forms no part of their game plan.
"If you ask any of the players – and I would open this to anyone who has ever played under me – I would defy anyone to say that I ever said, 'foul a player. I've actually said quite the opposite," he said.
Full-forward Stephen O'Neill insisted that whatever the perception, Tyrone are not a cynical team.
"I've played under Mickey Harte since 1997 and I've never been coached any cynicism. He tells you to express yourself, to work hard for the team and to do yourself, your family and your county proud. That was Mickey's message back then, and it's the same now," he said.
Concerns have been expressed in Tyrone that the allegations of cynicism could result in referees seeing them in a negative light, resulting in close calls going the opposition's way.
Maurice Deegan (Laois), one of the most experienced referees in the country, will take charge of next Sunday's game, for which Mayo are overwhelming favourites.
Here's how the four semi-finalists have shaped up in the discipline stakes in this year's championship:
They have the highest free differential against them, having conceded 93 while being awarded 79. It's surprising that a team which won its four games by an average of 15.5 points conceded more frees than it was awarded, since they were clearly enjoying levels of ascendancy rarely seen in the championship.
Teams tend to foul more under pressure but Mayo's average was the highest of the All-Ireland semi-finalists despite easily controlling their games against Galway, Roscommon, London and Donegal. Aidan O'Shea picked up their sole red card (a double yellow), while they have averaged just under three yellows per game.
They have fought back against allegations of cynicism, and while the adage 'when you're explaining, you're losing' comes to mind, they do have a point, certainly when it comes to frees.
However, they have had more players (three) sent off than any of the other semi-finalists, but two of them (Joe McMahon v Donegal and Stephen O'Neill v Meath) were on double yellows, while Martin Penrose saw a straight red for an incident after the half-time whistle sounded against the Ulster champions in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Tyrone also have the highest number of yellows (27), averaging 4.5 per game.
However, on the free count, Tyrone's concession rate is well within the normal range, while they have been awarded more frees than they gave away.
Unlike Mayo, Kerry and Dublin, all of Tyrone's games, with the exception of the qualifier win over Offaly, were tight, tense affairs where players were far more likely to concede frees and pick up cards.
They have conceded slightly more frees than they were awarded. Like Mayo, it raises questions as to why that is the case since they had easy wins against Tipperary and Waterford.
They actually conceded more frees than Tipperary in the Munster first round, which they won by 17 points. They have had no red cards and average two yellow cards per game.
Like Kerry, they have, on average, conceded slightly more frees than they were awarded but have the lowest average concession free rate of the four semi-finalists.
Their yellow card average is also the lowest of the remaining quartet. They gave away a total of 81 frees in four games.
Cork have the lowest free concession rate (17 per game), which may lead to suggestions among their fans that a lack of cynicism, however good for the game as a spectacle, may be counter-productive.
Conversely, Galway's fortunes improved once their free concession rate increased.
They gave away fewer frees than Mayo in the Connacht quarter-final, which they lost heavily, but the reverse was the case against Tipperary, Waterford, Armagh and Cork where they won three and lost the fourth by a point after fouling more than the opposition.
Cavan had the highest average free concession rate, while they were joint-highest with Tyrone on yellow cards. Kildare were next highest behind Mayo on the free differential, conceding 91 while having been awarded 78 in four games. Dethroned All-Ireland champions, Donegal also conceded more frees than they were awarded.