Monday 11 December 2017

Peter Canavan: Pundits are sniffing in the wrong place for the ‘bad smell’ surrounding Tyrone football

Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh (No. 14) celebrates with selector Gavin Devlin (centre) and his team-mates after Saturday’s victory over Monaghan
Tyrone captain Sean Cavanagh (No. 14) celebrates with selector Gavin Devlin (centre) and his team-mates after Saturday’s victory over Monaghan

Peter Canavan

Some media pundits are sniffing in the wrong place for the ‘bad smell’

"Sometimes you have to learn the hard way, but when you're in the public eye impressions of your character can be quickly formed and not easily altered."

- Brian O Driscoll, 'The Test'

I'm currently enjoying reading Brian O'Driscoll's autobiography and when I read the above quote, I couldn't help but think of Tiernan McCann.

Since Tyrone's first All-Ireland victory back in 2003 it's fair to say things have never been the same since. That success was a dream come true for many of us and for all those men and women of an older generation who I've met since.

The sentence, "I never thought I would see this day. Now I can die a happy man," has been said to me on so many occasions.

In our part of the world it's fair to say the GAA is part of our DNA. Barney McCann is one of those elder statesmen I refer to. Barney is now enjoying how Tyrone - for so long the also-rans - are now able to compete on the big stage without any trepidation or inferiority complex. Barney has since witnessed another two All-Irelands and how proud he must have been last Saturday night to see his two grandsons represent his beloved county in Croke Park.

His generation had become so accustomed to failures and disappointment when as a county we failed to deliver time after time. Many of those defeats were painful with the scars slow to heal.

Read more: Tomás Ó Sé: I'd be embarrassed to react like Tiernan McCann, but he shouldn't be judged on one incident


I can recall the pounding we took from the Dubs in '84, Kerry's famous comeback in the '86 final when we had one hand on the cup.

Monaghan players Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus in a tussle with Tyrone players Ronan McNamee and Tiernan McCann
Monaghan players Kieran Hughes and Conor McManus in a tussle with Tyrone players Ronan McNamee and Tiernan McCann

And 1995 was even closer when an incorrect refereeing decision cost us dearly. Of course, Charlie Redmond's refusal to walk when sent off gave us grounds for complaint but we lost on the pitch and we left it at that.

Things worsened again in 1996. The mauling we received at the hands and feet of Meath was hard to take but we were told to toughen up and get on with it. Back then no apologies from Dublin or Meath were given and none were asked for.

With this as the backdrop, it was with widespread neutral support that we claimed our first All-Ireland crown in 2003. This was added to in 2005 when we defeated Kerry in one of the most enthralling finals in recent decades.

To win an All-Ireland in such a way playing against one of the great Kerry teams, and certainly some of the greatest players ever to don a Kerry jersey, was so special to us as players and to the county as a whole. But as sure as night follows day, jealously follows success.

Since then a certain section within the media has tried its best to undermine the county and key individuals within the county. Mickey Harte, Tyrone's figurehead, was the obvious target.

Tyrone's Tiernan McCann
Tyrone's Tiernan McCann

In my opinion, Harte sits easily alongside some of the greatest managers in our game - O'Dwyer, Heffernan, Boylan. Yet too often, he has been castigated and undermined.

The stance Mickey has taken with our national broadcaster was inevitable and totally justified.

From the manager, the focus has moved onto the players. After the 2013 quarter-final victory, Seán Cavanagh was subjected to a level of criticism and personal abuse never witnessed on television before.

For one of our game's greatest ambassadors to be treated in such a way was shocking. What is even more alarming is that it was allowed to happen while many others sat by with their mouths shut. On Saturday at 32 years of age, Cavanagh put in one of his greatest displays in a Tyrone jersey, leading an unfancied team to a famous win.

Surprisingly, it appeared necessary for some to highlight the flaws in his game rather than emphasise the massive influence he had in Tyrone's victory.

One wonders why such selective analysis appears to be commonplace for Tyrone.

Back in 2013 after Seán's 'outrageous' tackle and the well-publicised uproar that followed, the black card rule was swiftly implemented.

Now on the back of Tiernan McCann's dive, it will be no surprise to see the rules changed again. There are six categories of playing offences under the disciplinary jurisdiction of our rule book - and feigning injury is not one of them - but from here on in it appears the Central Competition Controls Committee (CCCC) will be dishing out eight-week suspensions!

Why the sudden enforcement under the vague term of 'discrediting the association'?

I've no doubt Tiernan McCann will follow the rules of the Association when they are applied in a fair and equitable manner, but many are of the view that is definitely not the case here.

To select one example from this game, never mind the rest of the season, is hard to comprehend. In the words of James Horan, "the proposed ban is absolute lunacy".

Read more: Eoin Liston: GAA have given Red Hand a reason to feel aggrieved over McCann ban

Do we need a new rule? I believe that we certainly do, as feigning of injury has taken place in virtually every game I have witnessed this year. How often when a team concedes two or three scores in quick succession do you see a referee having to stop play while someone is treated for a tight hamstring, strained calf or lost contact lens?

Players are feigning injury to break the obvious momentum that the opposition have. It happens on a regular basis. Some referees are not fooled by it, but most are and stop the play as a result. So if the GAA want to deal with it, that's ok; put it to Congress, include it under a black-card offence if need be, but don't bow to pressure now and dispense of common sense.

In my opinion, Tiernan McCann will not receive a suspension. But in saying that, he has already paid a high price for his error of judgment.

Social media can be cruel and unforgiving. When it comes to any TV or radio debate on feigning injury, his example will be used for years to come.

There appear to be some within the public domain who believe that Tyrone is not a nice place to come from and take every opportunity to portray the county as such. Indeed, Colm O'Rourke believes, "a smell" is following Tyrone.

So in order to try and get to the root of this "smell", let's have a closer look at the chief protagonist.


Who is Tiernan McCann?

This is his third year on the Tyrone panel. In his first year he received only a few minutes of game-time. His second year, a few minutes more; and it is only this year that his hard work is beginning to pay off.

His second-half performance against Meath was one of the main reasons why Tyrone got through that day. A qualified pharmacist, Tiernan has opted to be employed as a locum to facilitate his inter-county career.

Like many other young men who play our game to their cost, county comes first. So is he a "renegade", a "coward", a "cheat"?

His grandfather, a lifelong Gael who still helps out when it comes to cutting the grass at the Killyclogher club, wouldn't agree.

His father Terry doesn't think so. Terry too has spent his life immersed in the GAA, having represented Tyrone at senior level in both hurling and football.

He managed the Tyrone Vocational Schools team for 10 years and served his as coaching officer on the Tyrone county board.

Tiernan's mother Dianne is also a staunch Gael and her mother Anna is a well-known figure in GAA circles around Ireland having served as the Scór co-ordinator in Tyrone and on the Tyrone County Board for at least 20 years.

When interviewed on The Last Word this week, I made the point that McCann's family is steeped in tradition. This point, some would say, is irrelevant. But it is important who you are and where you come from.

Tiernan McCann is aware of this. Yes, he made a mistake. We all have on the field of play, but his background is solid and his reasons for playing the game he loves are genuine as he endeavours to do his very best in a Tyrone jersey.

That's Tiernan, his background no different than many of the lads wearing the Red Hand jersey.

Yet, "a smell" still lingers .

Colm is correct in that there is a definite smell alright.

It's where that smell comes from that divides opinion!

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