Wednesday 13 November 2019

Joe Brolly column: Peter Canavan was one of the original experts in feigning

Eamonn Fitzmaurice has a tactical edge and the decisive firepower

Peter Canavan was a bit of a diver in his day
Peter Canavan was a bit of a diver in his day
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

Larry L Archie is a flamboyant trial attorney based in North Carolina. He wears stars and stripes bow-ties and handkerchiefs.

Larry would fit in well with the younger lads on The Sunday Game panel. What with all the bow ties, formal shirts and three-piece suits, Des Cahill sometimes looks as though he doesn't know whether to ask them a question or order a drink. Larry's motto, which is pasted on large billboards all over downtown Greensboro under a beaming Larry, is: 'Just because you did it, doesn't mean you're guilty.'

It is, in one sense, a classic exposition of the law. Larry would have enjoyed appearing for Tiernan McCann in Croke Park last Wednesday night. It would surely have been fitting for the most famous hairstyle since Jedward to have been represented by America's most flamboyant black attorney.

Tyrone after all - like the African-American community - have come to feel that they are being persecuted. Everyone is against them, and like Willie Frazer and his Love Ulster movement they are no longer going to take it lying down. Well, maybe they are going to take it lying down, but you know what I mean.

Peter Canavan wrote a piece in the Irish Independent that could take its place alongside Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom or Bernadette Devlin's The Price of My Soul. At this rate, it is only a matter of time before Tyronians chain themselves to the railings on Jones' Road until feigning, diving, delaying and trash-talking are protected by law.

Read more: Peter Canavan: Seasoned Kerry firepower just too much for this Tyrone side

In 1995 in Clones, Peter - who was perhaps one of the original experts in feigning - got Derry's Fergal McCusker sent off a few minutes into the second half. Fergal handpassed a ball over his head, Peter rushed into Fergal's arms, made contact and went prostrate on the ground. As the medics rushed in, the TV cameras showed Peter winking. McCusker was enraged and protested his innocence, but to no avail. Fergal is a mate of mine and to this day he is enraged when he is reminded of it.

It was a pattern that prevailed throughout Peter's career. In the 2003 semi-final against Kerry, Mike McCarthy was about to take a free. He was looking upfield for someone to give it to and had his right arm in the air. Peter rushed into his arm from behind and threw himself to the ground. The TV pictures show that Mike didn't even see him coming.

‘The best possible way to discredit the Association is for the Association itself to trample over its own rules’
‘The best possible way to discredit the Association is for the Association itself to trample over its own rules’

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But in connecting with Mike's elbow, the Tyrone man had managed to cut his own head. The referee came in, saw the bloodied forehead and brandished a yellow card at the bewildered Kerryman. Subsequently, Peter - under a headline reading 'Big hearted Peter backs fallen Kerry star' told a reporter, "I never had a chance to say it, but Mike did get booked for absolutely nothing." I'll say.

At a press conference before a Down-Tyrone game a few years ago, a poker-faced Mickey Harte was being pressurised about his team's renowned cynicism. As he was resolutely denying either coaching or condoning it, Down manager James McCartan intervened and said, "Mickey doesn't need to tell them to dive, they just do it naturally."

The audience exploded. If you didn't laugh you'd cry. Maybe it's not paranoia if the world actually is against you. But it does make Tyrone look ridiculous.

Read more: Croke Park braced for long overdue fireworks

Back in the real world, the law set Tiernan free. The disciplinary body wanted to make an example of him and I can understand that. So they charged him with discrediting the Association, which carries a minimum eight-week ban. This was flagrantly unlawful, since there is a specific offence of feigning and the penalty for that is a yellow card. The best possible way to discredit the Association is for the Association itself to trample over its own rules. Thankfully, the hearing committee limited the damage. When those who make the law break the law, there is no law.

Which leaves both teams with a full complement for today. An eye-watering statistic was published last week. The Kerry subs bench today has alone scored six goals (6-17) in this year's championship, in just four games. The Tyrone team meanwhile, in six games, have managed a sum total of three goals and none at all in their last three games, against Tipperary, Sligo and Monaghan. This illustrates Tyrone's big problem.

Their defensive system is superb and will be wet cement for Kerry's attackers. But to succeed in the biggest games using this template, you need goals. Think Donegal v Dublin in the 2011 semi-final compared to last year's semi. In 2011, Donegal got hemmed in at the end as Dublin pushed up. They just couldn't get the scores. Last year, they counter-attacked ruthlessly.

Another fascinating statistic: Jim McGuinness wrote last week how Donegal worked endlessly on combating Stephen Cluxton's kick-out. He said after constant repetition in training over several weeks they had it to near perfection. Yet of 23 kick-outs by Cluxton, they still won only three. But here is the rub: Those three turnovers yielded 1-2 for Donegal.

Each turnover was ruthlessly punished. As soon as the top teams (think Kerry v Kildare or Dublin v anybody) have an overlap, even coming from their own 45, there is only one thing on their minds. Until now, goals have not been on Tyrone's mind. Instead, their habit is to play safe, taking points. That will not do today.

Read more: Fierce rivalry built on respect and seasoned with spite

Their trump card has been the magnificent kicking out of Niall Morgan, who is also the game's best shot-stopper. Since he came back into the team his performances have been near miracles, boasting virtually perfect stats. He killed Monaghan. But Monaghan's formation was entirely predictable and they did not push up on the kick-outs.

The only thing predictable about Eamonn Fitzmaurice is that he will deal with this efficiently. So, Kerry will push up to prevent the short kick-outs and will swamp the middle third with bodies as they did in last year's final and against Dublin in the 2013 semi. On the latter occasion, they rattled Cluxton so badly that his kick-outs imploded. This is what they will hope to achieve today. If Tyrone are forced to kick long they will be in trouble, as Kerry have an enormous aerial advantage.

Tyrone's life blood is their running game. They do not and cannot kick long because they are playing a 13 and often 14-man defensive system. Kerry will disrupt them ferociously. Unlike Monaghan, who retreated into their own phalanx inside their half and invited Tyrone on, Kerry will push up on them and use every trick in the book. Tyrone are experts in the dark arts, but they have met their match in Kerry. Indeed, as Tomás Ó Sé has suggested in the past, they taught Kerry a thing or two. Those lessons have been well learned. As a result, the two most cynical teams in the game meet today.

Read more: Father of Donnelly brothers rejects notion of dark arts or cynicism in Tyrone ethos

Tyrone are systematic and will be very hard to break down. Kerry are equally systematic but their defence/attack balance is better and their coach is smarter and just as ruthless. Plus he has a lot more scoring power at his disposal and crucially, a group that pounce ruthlessly for goals when a point would be the safer option. Unlike Monaghan, who became so enraged by Tyrone's tactics that all they wanted to do was belt them, this Kerry team will keep their minds on the game.

In tipping Kerry, I wish to make it clear I am not persecuting Tyrone folk, nor should this be seen as an endorsement of such persecution. I am opposed to discrimination in all its forms.

Even against Tyrone.

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