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Colm O'Rourke: Mickey Harte may not like to admit it, but the buck stops with him

He may not like to admit it, but the buck has to stop with the team manager

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte during a press conference
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte during a press conference
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When Tyrone beat Meath in Omagh earlier in the summer in the qualifiers, I was very impressed with a player I had never heard of before. His name was Tiernan McCann. He caused plenty of trouble with his hard running and unselfish play.

When I saw him next, against Sligo in Croke Park, he had improved again. And last week against Monaghan he did a lot of work to make others look good. Then he went and ruined it all with a theatrical dive which will follow him around for a long time. The response from the GAA authorities was pretty immediate, a proposed eight-week suspension.

This does look unduly harsh, to seek to put a player out of an All-Ireland semi-final (and a final if Tyrone get there), especially when someone who strikes and injures a player would not get as much.

At this stage the bad publicity gained by McCann is punishment enough but it does mark a line in the sand. This young man, who made a mistake, has forced the GAA into action and sends a message out to all other players: namely that the long arm of the law may come to get you.

Yet if a rule is to be fair it must be applied consistently and Michael Shields in the Munster final behaved disgracefully, while Rory Beggan from Monaghan went down far too easily in last week's game and there were no proposed punishments.

Naturally, this controversy has overshadowed what was a very thorough football display from Tyrone, who were a lot better than Monaghan. They have welded together a new bunch of players who can run hard, tackle like the old days and have added a few deadly scorers like Darren McCurry and Mark Bradley.

'I agree with The Bomber when he expressed a good deal of sympathy for Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann who dived. He’s young and we all make mistakes when we are young. Some of us are still making them'
'I agree with The Bomber when he expressed a good deal of sympathy for Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann who dived. He’s young and we all make mistakes when we are young. Some of us are still making them'

Read more: Peter Canavan: Pundits are sniffing in the wrong place for the ‘bad smell’ surrounding Tyrone football

Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly are excellent players who do not get involved in any messing while the Cavanagh brothers are outstanding. In particular, Seán Cavanagh has been one of the top three players of the last decade so why does he become involved in so many incidents?

The elephant in the room with all this cynical Tyrone behaviour is Mickey Harte. Very few have ever criticised him but he is the manager of a team whose rap sheet includes diving, feigning injury, sledging, trying to get opponents sent off and some of his management team getting involved with opposition players. His defence is generally on the lines that there is a Sunday Game agenda and a bias in the southern media.

Last week I was on the Sunday Game and I looked extensively at footage of incidents which highlighted some of the worst behaviour in the game. Monaghan were guilty of serious indiscipline and these were pointed out clearly. The Sunday Game agenda was to highlight the poisonous nature of the game and the sickening, unmanly conduct of some of those involved, the majority of it from Tyrone. And there were plenty of other incidents which did not get shown because of time constraints.

I have worked on the Sunday Game for 25 years and never once has anyone involved in the production of the programme asked me to do anything which gave either advantage or disadvantage to any individual player or county. I am absolutely sure the same applies to everyone else working on the programme. Some with small minds may think that because Mickey Harte or his players do not give interviews to RTé that there is some animosity towards him.

I could not care less if he never again talks to the station. That has nothing to do with it. The truth flows from the pictures no matter how uncomfortable that is for Mickey Harte.

Read more: Ciaran Whelan: Tiernan McCann's failure to own up to dive was a mistake

Since I started for the Sunday Independent nobody at any level of the paper's editorial staff has ever asked me to write anything either favourable or unfavourable to any individual or county. If anyone goes to the press box in Croke Park you meet fans of the game who would much prefer to write about good play than the sickening spectacle which Tyrone were a part of last Saturday.

Indeed earlier in the year, when Tyrone were beaten by Donegal, I wrote that the criticism of Joe McMahon's marking of Michael Murphy was no worse than what Seán Cavanagh had to endure on the same day and that the sledging was from both sides. As it turned out, a pattern of despicable behaviour began to emerge involving Tyrone. So the most successful manager in the game at present needs to address this situation rather than blaming it all on others. His team practise some of the most unmanly acts on a pitch without any apparent censure from within.

Tiernan McCann hits the floor after Darren Hughes brushed his hair
Tiernan McCann hits the floor after Darren Hughes brushed his hair

One word from Mickey Harte to his players would solve these problems. If he told his players that they would be dropped if it continued then they would clean up their act pretty quickly. Could anyone ever even contemplate Brian Cody tolerating such behaviour? If a Kilkenny player went down like Tiernan McCann or feigned injury like Connor McAliskey, only to jump up when the ball came his way, they would probably be sent to mine salt in Siberia for a few years to learn the error of their ways. Honesty and manliness are at the core of their game; sometimes there is the odd dirty stroke by a Kilkenny player but it is in full view.

Naturally, when highlighting this there is the normal blizzard of paranoia. Generally it centres around the Meath teams that I played on and what a group of thugs we were. And this means I should never comment on any dirty or unsporting conduct.

Read more: Tyrone boss Mickey Harte refuses to be drawn on Tiernan McCann's eight-week ban

Some of the players I played with were no angels, they hit hard openly, and sometimes it went beyond that. Yet if one of our players got an opponent sent off by diving or pretending to have been injured it would just be totally unacceptable to the group.

In the past I played against tough Tyrone opponents like Damian O'Hagan, Eugene McKenna, Plunkett Donaghy, Noel McGinn, Audie Hamilton, Kevin McCabe and many more. They were hard but understood the ethos of the game. That seems lost now in the present team

Into the picture comes the Tyrone County Board who now have to defend their man, Tiernan McCann. That is fair enough but is there anyone within the board with standing who will say, when all this dies down, 'We have a problem here which must be tackled'? Is it purely coincidental that so many of their teams through club, county minor, under 21 and senior have been involved in behaviour which the board would be disgusted at if it happened in a club match in Tyrone?

The board should not take the path of least resistance and must confront this poison in the next few months. What standards Tyrone football are built on for the future depends on this because the achievements through the back door so far, and the quality of football played, is being lost in the stench. Maybe they don't just care so long as they are winning.

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