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It's unfair to single Tyrone out for cynical play when it's widespread across football

Declan Bogue


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9 February 2020; Referee Fergal Kelly shows David Clifford of Kerry a red card after a second yellow during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Tyrone and Kerry at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

9 February 2020; Referee Fergal Kelly shows David Clifford of Kerry a red card after a second yellow during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Tyrone and Kerry at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

9 February 2020; Referee Fergal Kelly shows David Clifford of Kerry a red card after a second yellow during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 3 match between Tyrone and Kerry at Edendork GAC in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Although there are many lines often quoted from Father Ted, one from the episode 'Rock a Hula Ted' in the second series stands apart.

Ted is judging a 'Lovely Girls' competition. With the contestants walking around traffic cones, he says into the microphone, ‘Doesn’t Mary have a lovely bottom?’

Fr Liam Deliverance gets up from his desk to say, 'Careful there Ted, that might offend the girls', to which Ted immediately rescues the situation by saying down the mic, 'Of course, they all have lovely bottoms'.

Balance. Such a hard thing to strike and in seeking to get there, many often miss the point entirely.

It’s for that reason that great political outsider Nigel Farage, who routinely complains about being shut out of 'the debate', has the highest number of appearances on Question Time, an average of 1.8 a year since 2000. He has his regular radio show with LBC too.

Balance has no place in sport and it's entirely lacking when it comes to cynicism in Gaelic football, particularly after last weekend and Kerry ace David Clifford's sending-off in the defeat to Tyrone.

First off, it must be stated that having had a good view of the whole incident at the time from behind the goals, Clifford should not have been given a second yellow card.

Referee Fergal Kelly was let down by his umpire, on whose advice he was relying. Clifford's furious reaction was entirely natural.

However, there isn’t a fraction of the same outrage when it comes to Peter Harte's second yellow in the same game under similar circumstances when he and Paul Murphy got into a wrestling clinch and were rewarded with a booking each.

Yet it is Tyrone, once again, who stand accused of outright cynicism.

They are guilty as charged — but so too are all the other teams who have realistic hopes of reaching an All-Ireland final.

Cynicism is now a central element of Gaelic football. It’s been there since the first ball was kicked between two opposing teams but now comes with a level of planning and sophistication.

As much as the Red Hands are guilty of it, they have also been sinned against.

Let's go back to the All-Ireland qualifier between Tyrone and Kerry in 2012. In the last 30 minutes, there were 14 occasions where Red Hand players were dragged down by Kingdom opponents following kick-outs.

Fourteen. Doesn't that sound a bit high just to be a coincidence?

In that game, Tyrone's Brian McGuigan nudged into the back of opponent Declan O'Sullivan, who went down clutching his face.

In a column a week later, an unhappy McGuigan wrote: "The one thing that is going to stick with me is the sight of Declan O'Sullivan smiling and sniggering when he got me sent off."

In 2015, the two sides met on the final day of the National League. The game was drawn but a statistic that jumped out was that Kerry committed 34 fouls to Tyrone’s 14.

They routinely held their opponents when under threat of a counter-attack in order to get their defence in shape.

Punditry has developed a soft language around this stuff; 'cuteness', 'experienced', 'battle-hardened'. All euphemisms to put a nice sheen on the one word that could be a catch-all term; cheating.

The top teams do it and that's what keeps them on top. Winning is the ultimate in sports-washing.

Is what we saw on Sunday any worse than Lee Keegan wrestling Sean Cavanagh to the floor at the start of the second half of the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final, which brought the predictable response of referee David Gough booking both?

Was anything quite as distasteful as the closing moments of the 2017 All-Ireland final when a host of Dublin players grabbed their nearest Mayo opponent and prevented them from moving for the final kick-out of the game?

How about Fermanagh players going down under the slightest bit of contact in their qualifier against Monaghan last year, claiming head injuries?

It's easy to pin stuff on Tyrone. They haven't helped themselves in the past, and remain firmly out of the establishment with their attitude. It suits them that way.

But they are only playing the game as it has formed over the past century, a game in which poor umpiring decisions allow rule-bending to flourish.

As former Tyrone manager Art McRory said in 2001: "There's no point in me putting manners on my boys if the fella up the road isn't putting any on his."

Online Editors