Thursday 17 October 2019

Peter Canavan: You could interpret the timing of RTÉ's statement this week as trying to put pressure on Tyrone

County stands behind Mickey Harte if he wants to avoid dealing with the national broadcaster

Mickey Harte and his Tyrone players continue to present a united front. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Mickey Harte and his Tyrone players continue to present a united front. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

If you have never been there then it is hard to judge. So if Mickey Harte decides that he doesn't want to deal with RTÉ after a tasteless sketch on radio then I think Tyrone people are OK with that. Being honest, whether the Tyrone football team cooperate with the national broadcaster is not something that consumes us up here.

Probably the only surprise about this whole episode was that it became a story this week. Monday's statement only confirmed that we already knew. RTÉ were not welcome in Garvaghey. That's been the way of things since 2011. Confusion surrounded the leaking of the letter to RTÉ regarding Brian Carthy's role and whatever your take on that, the sketch was wrong. Plain and simple. I think there's a broad acceptance of that.

In Mickey's eyes, the response after that was inadequate. You can only imagine the pain he was going through at the time and how much worse that made things.

The aftermath wasn't dealt with in a satisfactory manner so Mickey felt he had to make a stand. I think people up here know he's a principled man and they admire him for that. People know what Mickey and his family have gone through fully understand his decision. So, in truth, the news was there was no news. RTÉ breathed life into a non-story with their statement. It was released at just the same time as the Tyrone All-Ireland press day was kicking off.

You could say that seeing as we are preparing for an All-Ireland final they had to clarify their position in relation to their coverage of the biggest game of they year. However, if you were of a more sinister mind, you could interpret the statement, and in particular its timing, as something designed to put pressure on Mickey and the team.

I know there were moves afoot a few years ago to try and bring the dispute to an end. Mickey wasn't for moving and the players followed suit. They went to the county board and told them they were going to stand behind Mickey. It's not like they are being made to do this against their will. It was out of a sense of loyalty to their manager.

And once you are out of that group, then you're free to do what you want. You see that with a few former Tyrone footballers working with RTÉ in a variety of guises. And I know Mickey has no issue with those players now.

I've been asked a few times if this row is part of an ongoing unease between Tyrone football and RTÉ that can be traced back to the 'puke football' comment and on to the 'following them around like a bad smell' line from Colm O'Rourke and maybe a few other barbs in between.

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And there probably are those who feel Tyrone are regularly on the receiving end; whether this is due to their disengagement with RTÉ or their style of football, one never knows.

Honestly I think, as a county, we are past that. We know now that when you are at the top table, people talk about you in very different ways. It just comes with the territory. You can see a bit of that in the way the conversation around this Dublin team has changed. For many, the top dogs are there to have their chain yanked.

There's a new man at the top of RTÉ Sport now in Declan McBennett who is of a GAA pedigree. His initial sound bites have been positive. He's come out and stated that personal attacks won't be tolerated. And maybe time will help heal that wound but it really hasn't been given much oxygen up here this week. It seems like it's a bigger issue for other parts of the country than for Tyrone.

Up here we're more interested in getting ready for the game. Mickey has proven down through the years that he's a master of getting his team right for the biggest days. And he has a track record of pulling something different out of the hat and when it comes to All-Ireland finals. This final puts two of the great modern managers against each other. Mickey is sitting on a three-wins-from-three record in finals. Jim Gavin's is even better, having won all four of the deciders he's been in. And these are the weeks where management teams earn their corn. When you're a player, you can only fine-tune at this stage. Managers, however, are presented with a whole new set of problems and how they deal with them is key.

And the RTÉ row, along with distributing match tickets and organising post-match banquets and all the other little extras that come with a final, are all just distractions.

In these weeks, small things can become big things quite quickly. I remember I got caught up a little with the ticket scramble before the 1995 All-Ireland final. You spend the week before the match trying to please everyone and make sure they're sorted. In that scenario, you're only wasting valuable energy.

There'll be loads of different personalties to handle this week. I have seen lads who are hyper in the build-up to a big game, other lads will be relaxed. A few will just want to be left alone with their thoughts. It's up to the manager to handle his group as he sees fit.

I see Limerick chose to travel up on the train the morning of the game. That's obviously what John Kiely felt would work for his lads. I heard Brendan Cummins tell a story about how, before an All-Ireland final, he heard the floodlights were going to be switched on. He hadn't planned for that and he said it threw him for a while. With Tyrone back in 2005, Collie Holmes used to get a room of his own because of his sleeping habits. That's not something you want to learn when you're trying to get some rest the night before an All-Ireland final. They are small things but they're vital too.

Nervous energy will be coursing through lads and it can put you in strange situations. The day before the '05 decider myself and a few others went for a few holes of golf. That game ended when Brian McGuigan drove a buggy into a pond in CityWest. The fact that Kevin Hughes was in the passenger seat beside him might explain the mishap.

I read this week that in the hours before the 2008 final, Colm Cavanagh and Tyrone's sub 'keeper at the time Johnny Curran went for a few games of tennis. I know a lot of teams play cards when they are in camp. But you don't need someone losing a week's wages the night before the game either.

Those are some of the little, seemingly innocuous things that can quickly become detrimental to the team if they aren't managed correctly.

And that's what both managers will be trying to do over the next week or so. They'll look to remove the variables, foresee any problems and head them off at the pass.

There's hundreds of little decisions to be made and whether management get them right or wrong will go a long way towards deciding whether their team plays to its potential on the big day.

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