Thursday 22 March 2018

Peter Canavan: Phoney war a distraction Gavin's Dubs don't need

Playing for a cause can drive teams forward but players have to believe in it if it's to work

Peter Canavan collects the Sam Maguire in 2003. All Tyrone’s All-Ireland’s success were built against the backdrop of grievances or causes. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter Canavan collects the Sam Maguire in 2003. All Tyrone’s All-Ireland’s success were built against the backdrop of grievances or causes. Photo: Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

It can be a powerful thing, playing for a cause. I had a few in my days with Tyrone. Times when we felt unfairly treated or hard done by. It was there even before I started.

Back in the late 1980s and early '90s the perception among Tyrone people was that fair play was hard to come by when you went down south, especially in Croke Park. I learned that for myself soon enough.

Charlie Redmond was sent off but didn't leave the field in the 1995 All-Ireland final. The same day we'd a point disallowed late on. In '96, we lost to Meath in the semi-final but felt like we didn't get enough protection.

There were other incidents. Fast forward to 2003 and Pat Spillane's 'puke football' comment stands out. The red cards both myself and Stephen O'Neill picked up in the 2005 Ulster final replay was another incident where we felt like we were on the receiving end.

I've said before that we were very motivated that year to win Sam Maguire again for Cormac McAnallen. It felt like we'd stop at nothing.

Things like that can serve to motivate you more than the best pre-match speech or a crack team of sports psychologists. Jim Gavin knows the value of it too. I think that's what the last week has been about.

He breathed new life into a dead story last weekend and called out some big names in the process. Spillane was amongst them. Colm O'Rourke too. He wasn't happy with Sky either for the way they covered the game live.

It was an odd move for a man who always leaves you with the impression that what he says in interviews is about as far away from what he really thinks as can be.


Being honest, the whole thing strikes me as a phoney war. Why you'd want to highlight a story where one of your players - by Gavin's own admission - has done something wrong is beyond me. The only explanation I can come up with is that he's is trying to create siege mentality around the place and give his players a 'cause'.

You see, for Gavin there are two types of people in the world. Those directly involved with trying to help Dublin win the All-Ireland and everybody else. And if I'm honest that's exactly the sort of manager I'd want in my corner. He's a smart man.

He knows that his players have been incredibly successful. He knows medals and plaudits only serve to blunt desire. Dining at the top table leaves you fat while everyone else is even more driven for living off your scraps.

Three All-Ireland titles in a row would be something extraordinary in the modern era and as good as they have been, he knows it's going to take something extra special this time around.

So he's looking to cajole more out of them and see if old war horses like Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan can get themselves right for one more tilt at it. And if that means manufacturing a row or some sort of slight against his team, then so be it.

Now, I'm completely against the sort of punditry where you humiliate players or go for the big punchline. But the problem for me is I can't see what Spillane did wrong here.

I'm not trying to protect him, but to my mind all he did was analyse the situation as he saw it. Paul Earley did the same on Sky. Your job as a pundit is to inform people and give them your take on it. That's what they did.

The CCCC chose to hit Connolly with a suspension but Dublin believe the ban only came about because of the focus the broadcast media placed on the incident. I don't buy that. And even if you do, it doesn't change the fact that Connolly was wrong and had to be punished. That's why this all feels a bit manufactured.

When the 'puke football' comment came out, we were sore. It just didn't make sense to us. We were league champions and had kicked 1-20 in that final. We'd won the Ulster final after a replay where we scored 1-40 across those two matches.

And then we'd come to Croke Park and beat the aristocrats of the game in Kerry and this was the heat we were getting. It felt unfair.

We'd already been taken aback that year by O'Rourke's promise that he'd eat his hat if we won an All-Ireland with Brian Dooher in the team.

Over the course of the season we came to believe we weren't welcome at football's top table. Because of that we played with a fury. It helped us. We ended the year as league, Ulster and All-Ireland champions.

When we won in 2005 we had a grievance too. Myself and Stephen were sent off in that year's Ulster final replay with Armagh. I was sent off just after coming on.

A huge row kicked off and somehow I was picked out of the mass of bodies as one of the instigators. The referee thought Stephen had already picked up a yellow and sent him off even though he'd only been booked once.

We went through the channels and got both red cards rescinded. But we felt the whole thing came about because we'd been painted as trouble-makers and aggressors.

We played ten games to win that All-Ireland but for some of it at least, we were driven by a sense of injustice.

What I can say is that we genuinely believed we were getting a hard time in both of those winning summers.

Mickey Harte didn't bang the drum on it but at the same time he knew it was simmering under the surface. And I don't think he'd have ever tried to create friction that wasn't really there. It would only bring negative energy around the place.

That's why I think Gavin is taking a risk. The media in general have been falling over themselves to throw garlands at this Dublin team's feet for the last couple of years. And now they are at odds with part of it after one of their players put his hand on a linesman.

I think the mixed reaction from the former Dublin players has been telling.

Go back to between the two All-Ireland finals last year. To a man they felt Lee Keegan was getting away with too much in trying to force Connolly to the edge of the game.

This time, they are much more circumspect. Reaction to Gavin's move has been mixed. That speaks volumes.

For me, it all feels a bit forced and I think players can see through that.

Yes, it can be a powerful thing, playing for a cause. But the cause has to be real.

Irish Independent

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