Tuesday 12 December 2017

Harte banging a drum that's out of sync with reality

Tommy Conlon

We're all very angry, said John O'Mahony last Sunday night, we're all very frustrated and we're all very confused. Bingo. Bang on. The Fine Gael TD for Mayo had hit the nail on the head. And upon hearing it we were relieved to know that at least one member of the Dáil understood how the electorate is feeling.

Ah, but dammit: O'Mahony wasn't speaking as a politician, he was speaking as the manager of a county team (though in truth it's often hard to tell the difference with Johno anyway).

Turned out it wasn't the downtrodden citizens of this great little nation that he was so stoutly defending; it was the prosperous footballers and managers of the Division 1 teams in the National Football League. No mention at all of the paupers in Division 4.

But Mickey Harte was on their case. If he has his way the lower leagues will be subjected to the same level of surveillance as the big boys who enjoy all the trappings, such as they are, of life at the top. Not alone will the dispossessed have to continue their bleak existence, with nothing for their efforts except more abuse, but they won't even get away with the bit of boxin' and batin' that is sometimes the only relief from their grim station.

Have a heart, Mickey. But no, the Tyrone manager is coming on all righteous, if not a tad self-righteous, with his talk of fairness, equality and justice for all.

Both of these distinguished managers were doing their venting on RTE's Sunday Sport, the GAA highlights show that should really be rechristened Token Sport, with a subheading that promises token highlights, token analysis and token effort.

Their basic complaint is that teams in the top division are being singled out by the authorities. Their games are televised and therefore more vulnerable to post-match investigation, courtesy of the television footage. One would've thought that as a member of the law and order party, O'Mahony would welcome a clampdown on anti-social behaviour, wherever it raises its ugly head.

It was Harte who first floated this notion, the day after Tyrone were beaten by O'Mahony's Mayo. Tyrone were forced to line out without three players who'd been suspended following a review of their match against Derry the previous weekend. The referee had issued yellow cards to all three on the night. The members of the CCCC examined the footage and the referee subsequently upgraded the yellow cards to red -- the three players received four-week bans.

"The bottom line," said Harte, "is if our game against Derry had not been televised we would have had Martin Penrose, Conor Gormley and Justin McMahon playing against Mayo. That's an undisputed fact. We were disadvantaged being on live TV."

Last Sunday, in the RTE studio, he described this situation as "discriminatory"; he said it was not "a level playing field".

Harte is being disingenuous. He is banging a drum to distract from the real issue, which is his unfortunate failure to control his own players. Ryan McMenamin, anyone?

He said two weeks ago that he wasn't "condoning people who do things wrong". But he wasn't condemning them either, and he never does. One doesn't expect him to condemn them in public, but their behaviour on the field suggests that he doesn't call them to order in private either. He obviously intends to continue taking his chances with the notoriously erratic system of crime and punishment. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to ride your luck when the cameras are there to record the evidence.

Harte's first salvo in this particular stand-off was to threaten a television blackout of Tyrone's home games. This was never an option but it was a useful shock tactic to begin with. Now he's playing the victim card.

On the same weekend that Tyrone played Derry, Limerick's footballers played London in Ruislip. Mickey Harte won't rest easy until there are cameras at Ruislip, and every other venue where the bottom-feeders turn up to do their thing. It would be nice to think that he was pleading for more exposure on their behalf, the sort of high-profile TV coverage that leads to the commercial opportunities some of his own players enjoy. But no: all he is looking for is parity of punishment.

Of course, he doesn't care in the least whether a player from Carlow or Longford has a yellow card upgraded to red in the committee room. It's none of his business, and well he knows it. What he cares about is that his players are getting caught. And what he's saying is that if the system can't catch everyone, it should catch no one.

It's an argument so spurious it is transparently obvious that it is a smokescreen. In reality, he is trying to undermine the CCCC and weaken their resolve. And he knows that if they succumb to his demand for cameras at every game it would be exponentially more difficult, logistically and financially, to manage the disciplinary process.

Basically Harte has issued a warning to Croke Park to back off, and dressed it up in the language of discrimination. He's right, it is; but we prefer to call it positive discrimination, there for the good of the game. We'd like to think he'll take comfort from this, even as the next suspension is being handed down to one of his players.


Sunday Independent

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