Saturday 1 October 2016

Tomás Ó Sé: 'Scumbag' remark was clumsy..I knew I was in trouble when Joe Brolly backed me

I'm not clever enough to play mind games. I was expressing an opinion - although I could have used a better word than 'scumbags'

Published 14/05/2016 | 14:00

Tomas O Se and Michael Darragh Macauley do battle during Dublin's victory over Kerry in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final (SPORTSFILE)
Tomas O Se and Michael Darragh Macauley do battle during Dublin's victory over Kerry in the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final (SPORTSFILE)

I suppose I knew I was in trouble as the cavalry on Twitter arrived in defence of my honour and there, sat on the lead horse, was none other than Joe Brolly.

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Joe is maybe more comfortable in this neck of the woods than me. As a barrister, he has the language skills to beat away what fires he lights and be chuckling as he does it. Me? I'm no Red Adair. I can talk myself into trouble with the best of men; talking my way out is another matter.

All things considered, I thought our preview of RTE's new season of The Sunday Game went well in Thurles last Sunday. I did a few newspaper interviews and a live radio chat with Dessie Dolan and Darren Frehill. Came away not casting a second thought back to anything that was said.

Then I turned my phone back on and, holy Christ, the thing all but exploded in my hand.

My use of the word 'scumbag' and Dublin in one sentence was clumsy, I'll give you that. But I've never held myself up as some kind of Wordsworth in front of a live microphone and maybe this episode tells you why. Since finishing with Kerry and sitting into the pundit's chair, I've considered honesty to be my one real obligation to the public.

That's not been to everybody's taste and there are plenty of old acquaintances who've maybe regarded my candour as some kind of betrayal.

But this took things to a different place. In hindsight, I'm actually able to laugh at the fall-out now because I recognise how some people chose to pounce on that one, single expression and tart it up into some kind of national outrage. 'Hold the back page. Kerry lunatic calls Dubs scumbags'. Lovely.

So can we just cool the jets a second here.

I find it hard to believe that anybody paying attention to what I've been saying these last couple of years is in any doubt about how I regard Jim Gavin and his players. My admiration is total. The team that has dominated Gaelic football since 2011 - winning three All-Irelands and, essentially, re-defining how the modern game is played - and is one of the greatest we've ever seen in the GAA.

I've been saying for some time that I believe they're the best Dublin team there's been (and in Kerry we'd like to consider ourselves well versed on that particular subject).

They have it all: pace, aggression, attitude, skill, mental toughness.

Feared

Their backroom team has taken things to a whole new level in terms of mental and physical preparation in my view. They've pretty much re-written the rules.

I love watching them.

And I love how Gavin conducts himself in interviews even if, for media, it's largely frustrating. He is a master at speaking at great length but saying nothing. His guard is never down, his words never careless.

And I envy him this ability to filter everything down into vanilla ice-cream.

When I was a player, I ran from media interviews for the simple reason that I couldn't do that.

I just feared I'd always be susceptible to a loose phrase or expression that could end up on a wall in the opposition dressing-room.

So I pulled the shutters down. Kept my mouth shut. Headed for the hills.

This week you can probably see why.

So can I please be absolutely clear on something here? My use of the word 'scumbags' last Sunday was not intended to be in any way derogatory.

I've long had the utmost respect for men like Stephen Cluxton, Paul Flynn, Ciaran Kilkenny, Michael Darragh Macauley, Jack McCaffrey, Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan, the Brogans and, well, I could just jot down 25 names here while I'm at it.

Before the current group, one of my favourite footballers was my fellow pundit, Ciaran Whelan.

The Kerry team I played on had some of the qualities I most admire in Dublin now. Primary among those qualities is an ability to win ugly, a toughness and self-belief to keep stringing victories together even on the days you're not at one hundred per cent.

Right across the generations, the best teams have always been able to do that. They can play, but they can dish it out too. They can charm you with the quality of their football or, just as quickly, pin you to a wall.

I regret only one thing that I said last Sunday. One word.

I was trying to convey a quality in Dublin's play that captures this resourcefulness. Trying to portray them for what they are: a magnificent group of men who play on the edge. Who will not be walked on by anyone. Who - day in, day out - do what it takes. Who will hit you where it hurts, pushing the boundaries as far as they can without crossing the line into trouble.

Maybe one of my problems as a player was a weakness for crossing that line. I had the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Look, I'd have used that 'scumbag' expression about myself without ever over-thinking too deeply into what it actually meant. But I accept it's probably not the language of the pundit's chair. Maybe I should have gone with 'boyos' or 'divils' or 'quare hawks' last Sunday.

But I wasn't calling Dublin anything that I wouldn't have called my own brother, Darragh. That I wouldn't have called Paul Galvin. And I consider them two of the greatest footballers I ever played with.

I wasn't calling Dublin anything that I wouldn't have called three or four of the Tyrone team that became the bane of our lives in Kerry.

Determination

Think of the great Meath team that won two All-Irelands in the late '80s. Or the great Cork team they went to war with. They both had the kind of players I'm talking about. The kind of lads you knew would not take a backward step. They had skill to burn but, bottom line, their greatest quality was a determination to win at all costs too.

They WERE my kind of players. And this Dublin team? They ARE my kind of players.

That's what I was trying to get across in Thurles last Sunday. Trust me, I'm not clever enough to play mind games. I was simply expressing an opinion in the same way I would if I was chatting to someone in the street and my choice of a single word just kicked over a big hornets' nest.

Listen, here's the thing. If I was doing that interview again, there's actually very little I'd say any differently to what I said last weekend. That's just the way I speak.

I suspect the Dubs themselves understand that. They've never had a deficit in the humour department and I think they know exactly what I was trying to say last weekend.

I'll be in Nowlan Park in a few weeks time for their opening Leinster Championship game where I don't doubt that the colour and wit of their supporters will bring a fantastic atmosphere to Kilkenny.

And if I'm the butt of a few jibes, so be it. They know the score with me. I say it as I see it and make no apologies for that.

I'm no vanilla ice-cream.

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