Monday 22 October 2018

Did Joe Brolly go too far in criticising Sean Cavanagh?

Joe Brolly on the Saturday Game
Joe Brolly on the Saturday Game
Joe Brolly caused a storm for his post-match criticism of Sean Cavanagh for his cynical foul, above, on Monaghan’s Conor McManus in the second half of their All-Ireland SFC quarter-final

David Kelly and Donnachadh Boyle

As the dust settles on Joe Brolly's sensational outburst lambasting Tyrone's tactics, two Irish Independent writers argue whether or not the former Derry star went to far in his tirade.

NO, says David Kelly:

IF one can sift through the fog of Joe Brolly's personalised attack on Sean Cavanagh, it is just possible to see clearly enough what is the main thrust of his argument.

While his attack on television was as clumsy as the offence which so offended him, there is much logic in his argument. Basically, the former prince of Derry forwards is posing a simple question to the GAA community – do we want our juvenile teams, the stars of tomorrow, to play football like Tyrone?

Of course, the answer from the vast majority will be 'no'. We all want to see fast, attacking, free-flowing football, and the nub of Brolly's point is that the issue must be tackled head-on.

In fairness, Cavanagh does not deserve to be defined by this sole tackle nor can he be blamed for the culture of cynicism in Gaelic football. However, the former Footballer of the Year has played a part in the growth of this culture to foul.

It may not be Cavanagh's fault that the offence which he committed only carries a booking and not a sending-off, but the powerhouse from Moy is not immune from criticism and neither is his manager Mickey Harte.

His Tyrone team is rich in talent, but poor in spirit when it comes to their approach to developing an expansive game which their high level of skills should allow them to do.


Negativity rather than positivity seems to be their modus operandi and Harte's troops are well aware that in instances like Saturday night against Monaghan, the referee cannot reach for a straight red.

The fact of the matter is that Cormac Reilly could do little more than flash a desultory yellow. And before you start, black cards won't be the answer either, for they will not solve the problem of consistent, cynical fouling within the last 15 minutes of a game.

The only logical cure, if the sport and its participants are truly committed to wiping out cynicism, would be to introduce a red card for the offence. There's no denying that those who are charged with promoting and running the game are facing critical decisions as to what direction they want Gaelic football to take in the coming years.

There is nothing to stop coaches mimicking, as they do, the prime exponents of the game at the highest level, to instruct children up and down the country to do exactly the same.

That is the cancer within the sport to which Brolly is essentially getting at – and he knows that when it comes to orchestrating change within the GAA, it is often best to create a full-scale storm as the winds of change normally blow gently and slowly within the corridors of power.

That, in his blustering, bludgeoning fashion was the point that the controversial television pundit was trying to make. It is quite simple.

Brolly was completely right in shooting his mouth off and the basic message beneath his rant should be heeded for the sake of the game and its future.

No one who loves the game of Gaelic football wants to see tackles like Cavanagh's on Conor McManus become the template for the next generation. Anyone who does can, as Brolly suggested, turn their hand to playing rugby league.

YES, says Donnchadh Boyle

There are few who argue with Joe Brolly's sentiment. Buried beneath the tirade was a valid exercise of highlighting what has become an accepted practice in football.

Cynical fouling like Sean Cavanagh's goal-saving tackle on Conor McManus is unseemly, unsporting and against the spirit of Gaelic games. In an ideal world, it wouldn't happen.

McManus would have been rewarded for his skill and adventure with a clear shot on goal, he might have goaled and Monaghan's summer might have extended past the bank holiday weekend.

But elite-level sport isn't an ideal world and these types of fouls are an (unfortunate) part of the game. Expressed differently, Brolly's argument would have carried more weight.

It was potentially a game-changing moment, but it's not as if Cavanagh – or even Tyrone – invented the cynical foul.

Brolly's fellow pundits Colm O'Rourke and Pat Spillane confirmed as much from back in their own playing days.


That's not an endorsement of what Cavanagh did, but any of the four managers left in the race for Sam Maguire this morning would expect their players to do the same in the circumstances.

Teams are always looking for an edge and Cavanagh took advantage of the same rule that the referee was hamstrung by.

There was no way that Cavanagh could have suffered any further censure than a yellow card. And it's no surprise.

In the GAA, legislation has regularly been a few years behind coaches and managers.

There have been attempts at stamping this out, like in 2005 when a motion to punish players based on a cumulative number of yellow cards in a season was proposed but narrowly defeated at Congress.

In the eight years since, the problem of cynical fouling has festered and spread to all levels of the game, but Congress still only narrowly passed the Football Review Committee's black card proposal.

The black card is a start, but only a start. Ironically it's one that would suit Cavanagh. In a radio interview in the immediate aftermath of the match, the Moy man was extraordinarily composed.

He pointed out that open, free-flowing football would suit him more than most (certainly no argument there) and that he has been on the receiving end more often than he has dished it out.

Mickey Harte also came under attack from Brolly. The Tyrone manager defended his player and his team afterwards but what was he expected to do? Round on his star man in the build-up to an All-Ireland semi-final?

No chance. And that's not exclusive to the GAA; it wouldn't happen in any other code.

Couched in different terms, Brolly's point is absolutely spot on – we should be aspiring for better.

But singling out Cavanagh for something that, by Brolly's own admission, is rife in the game was the bit he got wrong.

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