Tuesday 26 March 2019

Colm O'Rourke: pinching a player's nipple is aggravating and a slap in the mouth is the best reply

Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone in action against Darren O'Hagan, Gerard McGovern and Kevin McKernan of Down
Sean Cavanagh of Tyrone in action against Darren O'Hagan, Gerard McGovern and Kevin McKernan of Down
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When Tyrone came under scrutiny a few years ago for diving, goading and attempting to get opposition players sent off, it drove their supporters to distraction. How could anyone accuse their heroes of activity which is alien to the normal culture of the GAA?

Yet, after repeated attacks on the messenger, it was strange that almost all of these activities stopped, whether it was a directive from management or the players themselves deciding that they were creating an unhealthy image of the game.

Anyway, it was noticeable that Tyrone changed and just got on with the game. It is difficult for all leopards to change their spots, however, and last Sunday Niall Morgan, the Tyrone goalkeeper, gave a right verbal lashing to Darragh O'Hanlon, the Down player who missed a great goal chance before half-time.

Why Morgan felt he needed to say anything to O'Hanlon is a question only he can answer. It would have been nice to ask Mickey Harte what he thought of this, but of course Harte has decided that his inner thoughts remain secret from the world apart from his gushing praise of Sky Sports' analysis relative to other channels where the panellists are just trying to make a name for themselves.

To give a bit of balance, however, I believe the Down player (I am not certain who it was) who pinched Sean Cavanagh should get a match off for his trouble. There is nothing as sore or as annoying, and if Cavanagh had dropped him on the spot he would have been acting under provocation and therefore would not deserve either a red card or a suspension.

This seems to be a growing trend in the game. Pinching a player's nipple is really aggravating, and a slap in the mouth is the best reply. This particular case has not been highlighted since last week, and Cavanagh's discipline in the face of such nasty provocation deserves to be commended. Will the CCCC intervene?

In the greater scheme of things there seems to be a growing consensus that this is turning out to be a good championship. Count me out of that. Only one team from outside the top two divisions of the league has made it to the last 12. All four provincial finals were a washout in terms of being competitive games. Many of the games before the qualifiers were embarrassing in their one-sidedness. Think of Dublin v Westmeath, Donegal v Antrim, Monaghan v Fermanagh and Tyrone v Derry.

Of course there have been plenty of entertaining games in the qualifiers but this does not make the present championship structure a success. Rather, it goes to show that when a county meets another of a similar standard - games that the qualifiers by definition will produce - there is plenty of entertainment.

The future, which unfortunately many of these counties do not seem to realise, has to be playing counties of a similar standard, with more games throughout the summer, access to Croke Park and a realistic chance of winning. That basic principle does not conflict with having an opportunity to play for Sam Maguire either.

Some type of re-varnished Tommy Murphy Cup is unacceptable and weaker counties are right not to be willing to play in a back-alley event with no prestige. If, however, all knock-out games were on with quarter and semi-finals in Croke Park, there might be a different atmosphere created.

Carlow should be playing games in Croke Park at this time of year, in a competition they can win. Photo: Sportsfile
Carlow should be playing games in Croke Park at this time of year, in a competition they can win. Photo: Sportsfile

Of course the Carlow experience has weakened the case in many minds for some type of alternate competition. Maybe it should be exactly the opposite. I don't want to rain on the Carlow parade, but the facts are that they played five games and beat three teams from the fourth division, two of whom, Leitrim and London, finished fifth and eighth in that division. So while Carlow had two great days out against Monaghan and Dublin, it does not mean they are competitive against any of the top teams.

What Carlow need is more games at this time of year. Their players should be playing in Croke Park, in a competition they can win with financial benefits to the county board and a carrot, like a foreign trip for the players. Then you could move on to the next level, but the idea of holding Carlow up as an example of a county who are ready to take on the world is just playing to the gallery.

Would Carlow players like it if they were playing in another match in Croke Park before an All-Ireland semi-final? They don't have league football until February and it is impossible to make progress on fitness and football skills with that sort of gap. It would be better for everyone if the likes of Carlow started to demand more games at this time of year instead of seeming to be happy with playing five games for the first time since 1944.

And so the championship winds on in some type of wild and unpredictable fashion? Hardly. Only one team from the first division, Cavan, crashed out of the race before the final 12 and the first really big game should be Kerry meeting Mayo in the quarter-finals. There will be no second chances then and it is plain to see that earlier games where there is the fire escape do not have the same intensity as those where it is a case of perform or leave the room.

By that stage the championship will certainly be a thrilling affair but I will always argue that it is failing the majority of players in the country. If you are a young player growing up in Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone or a few others then you can look forward to the Super Eight and any amount of big games in Croke Park. There is nothing wrong with that but the vision of the future for the GAA should be more socialist: to help the weak more than the strong.

And the black cards keep on coming. Dean Rock is the latest victim. Whoever put a hand trip into this category needs to quickly re-examine it. Rock, with barely a tug, gets a black while some players who nearly take the head off an opponent get a yellow. Try making sense of that. Kevin Feely should not have seen black and thankfully his successful appeal allows him to play for Kildare against Armagh next weekend.

Rock's black card was costly to himself, but Dublin found a new free-taker and Bernard Brogan proved that he is very much alive and dangerous. And Jim Gavin forgave us all and is back doing interviews. All peace and harmony in the Dublin GAA world.

The good thing about Kildare in the Leinster final was that they discovered they have a bit of bottle. Last week I wrote that they had talent and a future but would only find their real selves when confronted with calamity. It happened in the first 10 minutes and Kildare responded positively.

They have a lot to learn but the light at the end of the tunnel is not a speeding train coming towards them. They do need a better defensive alignment and a lot more cuteness, but ní thagann ciall roimh aois as the old-timers might say. Age and wisdom come together. However, that does not apply to all in the GAA.

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