Sunday 21 January 2018

Colm O'Rourke: If you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea fends off Tyrone's Ronan McNamee. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo's Aidan O'Shea fends off Tyrone's Ronan McNamee. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

What have Diarmuid Connolly, Seán Cavanagh, Aidan O'Shea, James O'Donoghue, Colm Cooper, Bernard Brogan, Peter Canavan, Bernard Flynn, Brian Stafford, Michael Donnellan, Ja Fallon, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Dinny Allen, Mike Sheehy, Bomber Liston, Pat Spillane, Jimmy Keaveney, James McCartan senior and junior, Mickey Linden, Greg Blaney, Seán O'Neill, Paddy Doherty, John Keenan, Cyril Dunne, Tony McTague, Mattie McDonagh, Kevin Heffernan, Mick O'Dwyer - among many others - all got in common?

We could add many more to the list. The common thread of course is that they were all top forwards who received special attention from defenders throughout their careers. And it happens in every serious club game too. I got a bit of it myself and before every big game, it was a matter of wondering which ugly corner back might take me up, and what was he planning to do to me.

In fact, it would have been disappointing not to have such company. It was a badge of distinction to have the best back on you. At the time it was called 'marking' and that was often a liberal description of what took place. Basically it meant somebody being sent out to take a forward out of the game as much as possible.

Now in a more sophisticated world it is called 'targeting'. Does anyone seriously think that in the past the best forward was not wound up as much as possible by word or deed. There are those who have been getting excited lately by this development. Worse still, managers are even mentioning it at press conferences as if it is something the opposition are doing but they are innocents abroad.

There is no doubt that Mayo 'targeted' Seán Cavanagh. If they hadn't, then questions would have been asked of Stephen Rochford as he would not have been doing his job properly. Lee Keegan blocked his runs on a regular basis as he did with Diarmuid Connolly last year. In the old days a forward might return the favour with a good wallop in the snot. The rules of engagement would be clear to everyone.

I have to admit to being guilty on a few occasions. It is amazing how an elbow to the ear can put manners on a defender. Of course the back would stand up at that time and didn't try to get you sent off. That would be a mortal sin, more among his own than the opposition.

Now players complain to the referee or the managers lament it after the game, especially if they lose. In the Cavanagh/Keegan clash there was a clear winner. Cavanagh had little influence on the game while Keegan contributed much more, and not just two great points. He is probably quite irritating to play on but Mayo could do with a few more like him.

Seán Cavanagh has been one of the players of the last decade and being sent off was a sad day for him. And Tyrone lost a real leader. His value was best summed up in the Ulster final when, despite playing poorly, he turned the game decisively in Tyrone's favour.

The young pretenders may have mopped up in the last few minutes of that game but without Cavanagh there were few leaders. So it was a bad finish for him yet the record of Tyrone in targeting players under Mickey Harte means few will have little sympathy. Cavanagh has not covered himself in glory on a few occasions with blatant diving. It will be seen as a bit rich by Tyrone to even bring up the issue of special treatment. The 'marking' of Michael Murphy by Tyrone last year in Ballybofey was much worse than Cavanagh ever endured.

When we were playing in the 1980s, Kevin Foley was often put on the best opposition forward. If the forward had a weakness, either mental or physical, he would exploit it. Exactly the same rules applied at the other end of the field. All is fair in love and war. It meant making life difficult for a forward. If it went beyond the rules, it was up to the referee to sort it out. The same applies now, in fact the present generation have it easy. Closer communication between umpires, linemen and the referee means foul play is much reduced. And then there are TV cameras for trial at a later date.

So what does Diarmuid Connolly expect? As long as he plays football at either club or county level he will have someone giving him special attention, it comes from being one of the most talented players in the country. And as long as he shows the lapses in discipline which has been a feature of his career, then he can be absolutely sure he will get even more attention. If he finds himself on the line, as he has on a few occasions, then Dublin are much more manageable. So why not wind him up?

Then there is Aidan O'Shea. He was given a hard time by Tyrone and the fuse nearly blew on a few occasions. After a run in with the law over diving against Fermanagh he has had his share of problems. The main one that should concern Mayo, much more than diving or getting special attention, is the fact that he has not played consistently well in the really big matches in Croke Park over the last few years. In fits and starts last Sunday he was almost impossible to manage, but that form has been lost on many big days.

Great players play great in semi-finals and finals. Connacht championship or qualifiers games are a horse of a different colour. O'Shea has become a personality of the game but without the big day performances to warrant it. The comparison with Bernard Brogan is obvious, yet there is one big difference. Brogan became a big name in the game and has built a career around it, however, on big days in Croke Park, and especially in All-Ireland finals, Brogan has been the man. When Dublin need a goal it has usually been him who supplied it.

O'Shea does not rank in that league yet and if Mayo are to break their duck then the big man must become the hero that a lot of Mayo supporters have already prematurely ordained him. Of all the players who are getting special attention, he has the physique and power to deal with it, but in the past there have been small men who were well able to look after themselves too. It is not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog. So forgive me if I don't take either managers or players too seriously when they complain about sledging or targeting.

Sledging is part of the process too and while it has probably gotten worse, it is within the gift of the managers to get rid of it, rather than complain. As for tight marking, it has been part of the game since the first pig's bladder was kicked way back. If you can't stand the heat then the kitchen is not the place to be.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport