Monday 18 December 2017

'Tiernan McCann's fall has no place in the GAA'

Referee Marty Duffy gives Darren Hughes (11) the red card late on in their defeat against Tyrone
Referee Marty Duffy gives Darren Hughes (11) the red card late on in their defeat against Tyrone
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

It was an extraordinary sight. A referee blowing the final whistle for an All-Ireland quarter-final and, from the tunnel beneath the Hogan Stand, a stream of yellow Donegal shirts coming sprinting out to cut a path through the jubilant Tyrone players and management and their crestfallen Monaghan opponents.

Three teams on the field at the same time adding to the sense of chaos that had prevailed in the closing stages of Saturday's curtain-raiser.

But then such an extraordinary sight had been triggered by an extraordinary set of circumstances.

Marty Duffy had signalled for six extra minutes at the end of an incident-filled second half. He eventually called time with eight minutes and 50 seconds added.

Almost nine minutes!

In the recent history of championship football that is surely unprecedented.

He had every justification to take it as far as he did though as delay after delay ground this game to a halt.

As pacesetters throughout, with a lead that stretched to five points at one stage, it was in Tyrone's interests to quell any Monaghan momentum. That's a fact of sporting life.

Read more: Joe Brolly: Diving, stalling, mean-spiritedness - the Tyrone-Monaghan 'game' was depressing


They did so with some superbly organised defence, it should be said, but some cynical and tactical fouls too. Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly, two of the main drivers of their qualifier revival, cleverly halted opponents building up a head of steam and picked up yellow cards, Tiernan McCann literally climbed on Drew Wylie late on to prevent him from clearing his lines and earned a black card at the end.

Time added on for injuries to Seán and Colm Cavanagh was also justified but, in the defence of the brothers, some of that recovery time was merited too.

Colm Cavanagh was taken out with a thumping tackle by Darren Hughes in the 70th minute while Seán Cavanagh was caught with a blow to the face by Paul Finlay for which he picked up a yellow card. Were they expected to get up and get at it straight away?

But while Duffy was preparing the paperwork, presumably to send off Hughes, the Monaghan player tossed McCann's hair prompting the most theatrical dive from the young Tyrone man to even surpass Aidan O'Mahony's dramatic backward flip in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork after Donncha O'Connor's petulant slap to his face.

McCann's fall has no place in the game, just as O'Mahony's hadn't. It wasn't the cause of Hughes' dismissal but it was clearly a blatant attempt to land him in trouble.

Read more: Monaghan's Darren Hughes trolls Tyrone's Tiernan McCann over 'dive' with priceless tweet

For balance, it should be said that Monaghan's goalkeeper Rory Beggan appeared to make a meal out of slightly more forceful contact at the end. But then the game had descended to that level.

As a consequence the post-match narrative was re-routed from what should have been Tyrone's transformation from their league reversal against the same opponents on the opening night, when they endured a 12-point swing to lose by seven, to a most impressive victory here.

Peter Canavan's subsequent observation that, in some quarters of Tyrone there was a desire to see the team beaten because it would hasten Harte's departure, was quite startling.

After clean sheets in five successive games, taking him to a sixth All-Ireland semi-final in 13 years, Harte will be choosing the timing of his own departure, regardless of what's in store against Kerry.

Tyrone are developing an image problem again that a strong football county with so much going for them can do without.

Tipperary laid very strong accusations of sledging against them after the All-Ireland U-21 final in May, even going as far as to refuse entry to manager Fergal Logan to their dressing-room for the standard post-match visit. Logan was adamant that his players had been instructed never to behave in that way.

Just a few weeks later a member of their minor team was accused of alleged verbal abuse of a Donegal opponent who had suffered a bereavement. Again Tyrone defended their position, denying the abuse had taken place.

Seán Cavanagh has also drawn reference to verbal abuse he and his colleagues have taken and it was a notable feature again in Saturday's game.

Such controversy has been following Tyrone now for some time, as far back as their breakthrough year in 2003 when they won their first All-Ireland title.

Their semi-final win over Kerry had been a clinical exhibition in the art of organised, mass defence and fast counter-attack.

But there was an undercurrent of cynicism too that day in the way some of their players were colliding with opponents and hitting the deck too easily.

In the All-Ireland final Armagh's Diarmaid Marsden was sent off by referee Brian White when he raised his arm to defend himself as Philip Jordan rushed at him. The scale of Armagh's dissatisfaction with what had happened manifested in the lengths which they went to clear his name which they eventually did at a Central Council meeting almost three months later on a technicality.

In his autobiography, Joe Kernan had strong opinions on the incident.

"Diarmaid's cause wasn't helped by Jordan's lengthy spell getting treatment," recalled Kernan.

"Funnily enough, Jordan seemed fine for the rest of the game so there couldn't have been much damage done and, even if there was, Jordan would have to answer the question - why did he run at Diarmaid in the first place.

"I have to say too that I was disgusted by the actions of at least one Tyrone player who mockingly clapped Diarmaid off the pitch. There's an honour among players. Or at least there should be."

In July, the Gaelic Players Association launched their 'Fair Play' campaign focusing on stamping out such incidents of poor behaviour that marked the end of Saturday's game.

Suffice to say, this wasn't what they had in mind.

Tyrone will argue that McCann is not the first to do it and won't be the last and that they shouldn't be the one always singled out. But that's not a defence.

No investigation is likely as it is only a yellow-card offence but, at the very least, Tyrone need to make it publicly clear this week that they can't condone such behaviour from their players.

As the longest-serving and most respected manager in the game, Mickey Harte can take that leadership on the issue and set a precedent that will stand to the game, helping to cut it out in the future.

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