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Colm O'Rourke: Sledging has become more ugly and rehearsed and began with Dublin


Michael Murphy (centre) – whom Donegal claimed was ‘targeted’ – has a word with linesman Maurice Deegan alongside Tyrone’s Justin McMahon (right)

Michael Murphy (centre) – whom Donegal claimed was ‘targeted’ – has a word with linesman Maurice Deegan alongside Tyrone’s Justin McMahon (right)


Michael Murphy (centre) – whom Donegal claimed was ‘targeted’ – has a word with linesman Maurice Deegan alongside Tyrone’s Justin McMahon (right)

The dark art of sledging has surfaced again. In the past sledging meant giving someone a good thump, now it means making comments which are of an unparliamentary nature. In other words mouthing off.

Yet it is hardly something new. Well over half a century ago a Dublin player asked a Meath opponent who had very big ears, "would you not be afraid going out on a windy day in case those ears would beat the face off you". The reply was sharp and to the point. End of sledging.

In my time playing there were plenty of words exchanged which could amount to this new terminology. One day in Croke Park a certain upmarket gentleman told his marker very loudly, "shut your mouth pizza face". The fact that the player concerned had a severe bout of acne at the time made the comment both funny and dangerous. It nearly started world war three. Discretion prevents me from identifying the players involved in this incident but when the match was over there was not another word about it. At least one of those involved in the first case is dead so I can invoke the Latin phrase, De mortuis nil nisi bonum. Do not speak ill of the dead.

On a personal level I had little enough experience of sledging. Naturally enough there were the odd comments which were not very pleasant, but in general it was never an issue, especially as I got older. Perhaps that explains a bit of it, young players are often targeted and if it has no effect then opponents move on to someone else. It was in some ways a rite of passage.

Now it is more ugly and rehearsed. It does seem the common theme surrounds the nocturnal exploits of sisters, wives, girlfriends and mothers. If a player knows their names then they get bonus points. This sort of stuff seems to have been part of a concerted organised campaign by Dublin in the past and Tyrone and Donegal more recently. All part of copying the trash talking which goes on in American sports.

So when either side from last Sunday's game bring up this subject as a complaint then it appears to me that those in glasshouses should not be throwing rocks. The occasional fairly innocent comment from the past is now replaced by a more sinister version. Of course the best answer is none - just win the game. Those who get dragged into this type of conversation are not thinking of their role and have lost focus.

When accusations of targeting good players are made I cannot hold back the laughter. What has happened to every good player since football started? They have all been targeted. Diarmuid Connolly is targeted in every game for club and county, so is the Gooch. for Kerry. Naturally Michael Murphy was targeted for Donegal, it was nothing worse than the treatment which Seán Cavanagh got for Tyrone. Both sides were playing with fire and a few black cards would solve a whole load of problems. But excuse me if I find it hard to be sorry for either of last Sunday's counties. You reap what you sow.

It will be interesting to see if the referee intervenes at the first sign of a swear word in Kingspan Breffni Park this afternoon. Or maybe the players will take the Sicilian oath of omerta and not a word will pass their lips. Let's hope they focus on football and it would be helpful too if pulling and dragging an opponent around the place was a black card offence. This seems to be the new departure. Grab a player by the jersey and try and wrestle him to the ground. It appears as a conscious decision not to strike but it is an ugly mess. Anyway a referee should be allowed to put a player off for stupidity and this type of WWE wrestling should be part of that.

I think Monaghan will win today. They have a core of very experienced players, like Dick Clerkin, Drew Wylie, Vinny Corey, Dessie Mone, the Hughes brothers and Conor McManus but time is running out. When you miss the bus in Monaghan there may not be another one coming along for a decade. These men have held their own with the big boys in the League and have won the Ulster championship. The only other thing for many of these players is to win the All-Ireland and that is probably unrealistic. Even getting to a semi-final would be an enormous achievement for a county with a small population base.

If there are only around 60,000 people living in Monaghan, which puts them in the bottom five in the country, Cavan are not much better with just over 70,000. This makes the Cavan record of winning more than twice as many Ulster titles as any other county all the more amazing. Now they still play in black and white while all the other counties have moved to colour.

The Cavan style of play is just as rotten as Donegal or Tyrone and they probably kick the ball less often than other team. I only saw them once in the flesh this year and that was against Meath in the League. That match merely showed what a bad game football can be when played in a certain way and there are not enough class players on either side to elevate it above the mechanical defensive systems. As it was Meath won but the match could have gone either way.

Cavan won't apologise for their style. They hardly won much when on flat out attack so they are now competitive, that is all that matters to managers, players and probably most supporters too. I have been impressed with Killian Clarke; much too much of the attacking play must go through Cian Mackey, while Ronan Flanagan will operate as a sweeper. Sometimes Cavan have more than one sweeper so their build up play is torturously slow as they have to wait in attack to get reinforcments from defence. They would need a fleet of motor bikes for a quick break.

Monaghan have a more sophisticated defensive structure as they have tried their template against all the top teams. The only ones who destroyed them recently were Dublin in Clones but Monaghan clearly learned from that and nearly caused a big shock in the League semi-final. Their motto is to get the ball to Conor McManus and if they had another couple of scorers there would no limit to their ambitions. A limited range of scorers holds them back yet it still should be a Monaghan day.

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'What actually betrayed the spirit of the game was the treatment handed out by Justin McMahon to Michael Murphy and the licensing of that treatment by referee Joe McQuillan'

Tyrone and Donegal players and officials exchange words while leaving the field at half-time in Ballybofey last Sunday. Photo: Stephen McCarthy