Saturday 10 December 2016

Sean Cavanagh: All we want is fair play

Cavanagh and Harte bemoan inconsistency as ghost of Monaghan controversy haunts Tyrone

Published 24/08/2015 | 02:30

Tyrone’s Pádraig McNulty falls to the ground under pressure from Aidan O’Mahony – McNulty was booked by referee Maurice Deegan
Tyrone’s Pádraig McNulty falls to the ground under pressure from Aidan O’Mahony – McNulty was booked by referee Maurice Deegan
Tyrone’s Connor McAliskey is fouled by Marc O Se in an incident which resulted in a black card for the Kerry player

After the storm, the calm. And the hurt. Mickey Harte comes into the press auditorium smiling. He has much to be pleased about. Outside Seán Cavanagh shares his manager's satisfaction at the body of work they have amassed since losing to Donegal in May.

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They've made the All-Ireland champions sweat, a new-look team have put firm roots down for the future. It's now six-and-a-half matches since they conceded a goal and their counter-attacking game really did throw up a raft of opportunities that weren't seized upon.

But when all of that is packaged and parcelled there are deeper issues to examine.

Black cards, penalty claims, and the blizzard of criticism that fell upon them in the wake of their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Monaghan.

Was there a legacy issue from that which cost them here? Cavanagh had a ring-side view of Aidan O'Mahony's challenge on Pádraig McNulty that bordered on a penalty but resulted in a yellow card for the Tyrone substitute for feigning injury instead. And it troubles him now, the sense that his team are paying some price for what has gone on before.

"I was five foot from it. It's just so hard to take because, you don't want to be a sore loser, but you would wonder whether if it was at the other end of the field (if) the same decision would have happened," he questioned.

"Obviously there's been an awful lot of negativity around this team," he conceded. "It's not for me to judge whether that has been fairly or unfairly but all we're looking for is fair play. It was very hard to take.

"I think a couple of frees that maybe they got at the other end of the field ... big Paudie (McNulty) had no real reason to go to ground. He was cutting inside his man looking to get a goal at that stage. It's hard to take. He feels himself it should have been a penalty. I thought it was."

They can point to other inconsistencies from Deegan that also didn't help their case. Ronan McNamee's challenge on Colm Cooper did not fit the criteria for black card because it didn't look deliberate, but black it was according to the match official.

It didn't stack with Shane Enright's challenge on Peter Harte four minutes later which was clearly designed to stop Harte in his tracks. But Enright survived with yellow.

"Baffling is the word," reflected Mickey Harte afterwards. "Inconsistency. I just don't see the difference in those.

"If one of those was a black, the other one was a black or if they were both yellows, so be it. But I don't see how you could have one, one colour, and the other, the other colour. It just doesn't seem to make sense."

Cavanagh will consider whether to extend his career to a 15th season over the winter but the decision to stay on is getting harder, he admitted.

Harte? He can't get enough of it. Asked whether he had reached agreement with the Board to stay on his answer was a little cryptic but revealing nonetheless: "I haven't told them I'm going away. If that's the same thing I don't know."

The reaction to Tiernan McCann and other aspects of their play against Monaghan had been "annoying and frustrating".

"It can motivate you if you want it to but I don't think it's going to be the difference between winning and losing," he said.

"It's downright biased what was going on. You have to live with that because some people make their living off being controversial. You just have to deal with that and let it be. But the good thing about it is they speak so much drivel that even if it's articulate drivel, it's still drivel."

When the time comes to review éamonn Fitzmaurice's tenancy as Kerry football manager, his capacity for making the biggest of calls will surely underpin everything he has done.

With the strongest squad containing some of the best players in the game in their positions, you would think he should, on the face of it, have an armchair ride.

But managing a stable of stars that has a Ballydoyle pedigree to it demands very delicate balance. How do you keep them all on board?

Reputations

Kerry have now played five times in this Championship. They are champions and haven't lost. You would expect a strong thread of consistency running through their teamsheet by now.

But from the opening game against Tipperary to this All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone they have made 13 changes in personnel.

Reputations simply don't matter to Fitzmaurice. Not one Kerry player has started all 16 Championship games he has been in charge for.

James O'Donoghue has been rested. Donnchadh Walsh, the calmest man in Croke Park yesterday, has sat out one. Even Marc ó Sé was left out in Limerick last year.

Consider what you might have thought at half-time yesterday. With the last play before Maurice Deegan brought the first half to an end, Kieran Donaghy, who had been struggling, made a spectacular catch from a Paul Murphy point attempt that got far too much altitude.

Surrounded by Tyrone bodies, Donaghy managed to find space and screw over a point off his left foot for an 0-8 to 0-7 lead.

He punched the air. It looked like a statement, it felt like a statement, and you thought that should really settle Kerry, the sight of their totemic full-forward winning one 'against the head' like it in such difficult conditions. But the captain didn't re-appear for the second half. His 'statement' hadn't been enough.

No sentiment, no consideration for the prospect of him sourcing energy from it and putting in a really big second half. They were just going a different way.

By the end the impact of his replacement, Paul Geaney, could be sourced in the two points he scored and the different outlet he provided.

"Sometimes these things can be overplayed," shrugged Fitzmaurice afterwards. "To be fair to Kieran, in the first half the service was poor. He was getting on ball which was at his feet, surrounded by four or five Tyrone men. The supply into him wasn't great.

"We just felt that with Paul Geaney it would be a slight change in emphasis up front. Paul did very well in the second half. It just worked out a bit better for us."

It was an afternoon for patience and nerve and Kerry showed it in spades down the home straight after being asked so many searching questions.

They had been apprehensive in the first half, perhaps the foreboding sense of déjà vu that a Tyrone team was tearing into them in Croke Park was all too apparent.

Marc ó Sé was lost to an early black card, Colm Cooper couldn't get into the game, David Moran could but not with the same impact as his previous two games, the middle of their defence was open, and too often Tyrone were accepting the invitation to run at them.

As a measurement of how precise these things are at this level, Fitzmaurice felt a first 3.30 throw-in of the season may have had a negative impact on their build-up.

Little things like being holed up in their hotel for most of the morning because of the weather and then not getting out to watch a bit of the minor match contributed to their mood.

But ultimately it was the combined influence of their half-forward line that dropped the anchor in the seabed for them; Buckley with the first three points and five turnovers, Walsh taking his art of bi-location to new levels.

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