Wednesday 24 January 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: 'Nobody was laughing at idea of one lad biting another'

O'Gara was the player most wronged after blows he took to the head

Eoghan O'Gara, in action here against Kevin Reilly and Eoghan Harrington, is Dublin's best option for full-forward
Eoghan O'Gara, in action here against Kevin Reilly and Eoghan Harrington, is Dublin's best option for full-forward

Tomás Ó Sé

A few strange bullets were flying in the direction of 'The Sunday Game' studio after last weekend's 'Bitegate' coverage, so it might be no harm to put one misconception to rest.

Now, I hate feeding a machine that I sometimes felt, in my own career, had me in its crosshairs. And I'm pleased that Meath did the right thing eventually by letting the matter drop. But I saw the word 'blasé' used in relation to how we covered the story on Sunday night – an impression given that maybe I, Owen Mulligan and Dermot Earley just found the subject funny.

And that kind of niggled me because, straight up, I used to hate when the likes of Paul Galvin or myself had to sit and watch something we had done receive the big TV treatment. In my eyes, 'The Sunday Game' had too much power in terms of influencing what a body like the CCCC might do.

So, I'm mindful of being fair to people when I sit in front of a camera. My only interest is calling something as I see it, which is exactly what I did last Sunday.

Let's be straight on one thing – nobody was laughing at the idea of one lad biting another in Croke Park. Nobody was making little of it. Mulligan just made one comment that, even now, I consider funny. Something along the lines of what was a man to do when someone puts their finger in his mouth, except maybe "blow it out?"

Did the three of us laugh? Guilty as charged.


But the impression given from some quarters afterwards was that we were all just singing off the one hymn sheet, a hymn sheet inclined to make little of the story. Not true.

Actually, I stand over everything I said about the incident on Sunday night. To me, Eoghan O'Gara was the individual most wronged, given the number of blows he took to the head before the alleged bite occurred. In my book, he behaved with incredible restraint.

That's not to trivialise the allegation of biting. It's simply to say that having seen the incident from every conceivable camera angle – as I did – the only thing I can say with certainty is that two Meath players were lucky to escape straight red cards for punching O'Gara to the head.

If there was a bite on Mickey Burke's finger, that clearly cannot be condoned. But I would ask what was his finger doing in the vicinity of O'Gara's mouth?

Put it this way, if neither player had been booked and the referee, thereby, had cause to revisit the incident, I believe Burke would have had more reason to sweat than O'Gara.

It's not easy to hold the head when lads are skelping you, but it seemed to me O'Gara did. Not alone did he not raise a fist as he was being punched, he didn't even raise his head.

I know he has a bit of a name for walking the line, but I also know only too well how that's a whole lot easier to acquire than lose.

You won't find me preaching from any pulpit given my own experience a few years ago of getting sent off within four minutes of my return from a two-month suspension.

Jack O'Connor rang the night before that Laois game in the National League. "You need to hold the head now Tomas ... "

"I know that Jack, I know ... "

And, before I knew it, I was throwing this stupid rabbit punch straight in front of a linesman.

Look, when the red mist descends, we all do stupid things. So, I don't see it as my job to be getting players in trouble. But I would ask one fundamental question about Sunday: there were two umpires who had to have a fairly clear view of exactly what was going on and they did nothing. How many strikes to the head does it take for one of them to raise their hand?

Yes, O'Gara started the whole thing with a foul, which should have been a yellow card.

But the Meath fellas then pulled him in and started pucking him straight away in the face and I would commend him for not reacting to the blows, because I've been sent off for a 10th of what was dished out to O'Gara last Sunday!

The only two people who can say anything with certainty about the alleged bite were the players involved, maybe even O'Gara alone. So, without conclusive evidence, I couldn't ever see it going any further.

I'm glad Meath eventually saw sense because I've great respect for their football. If I was one of their players, I'd have my head down right now in disgust at the performance. I'd be just thinking about making amends.

My suspicion is that Mick O'Dowd probably regrets alerting the media to the biting allegation, because it was a most un-Meath-like thing to do.

I'd associate himself and Trevor Giles with traditional Meath teams, teams with brilliant forwards, but also hard men at the back, men who lived by the sword and died by it. They could give it and take it and you respected them for that.

But I suppose you're just after getting the hosing of your life in Croke Park, you're feeling embarrassed and, next thing, O'Dowd is told one of his players has been bitten. I'm guessing here, but I think if he'd seen the incident in full, I can only imagine he'd have said, "Ah for God's sake, we gave as good as we got. Walk away!"

To be fair to O'Dowd, I would always regard it as a good sign of a manager to defend his players after a poor performance.

That's what Alex Ferguson always did. He never once blasted his players in public, but then you'd read some of their autobiographies after and discover that he destroyed them behind the dressing-room door. Maybe O'Dowd did that too on Sunday.

If so, I hope he pointed out that, if Meath were going to start something, they should have started it when there was something to fight for. For God's sake, don't start a fight when the game is over.

Deep down, Meath will probably feel a little ashamed by Sunday and there may be a sting in the tail for Armagh now when they meet in the last round of the qualifiers.

That said, Dublin answered every question last weekend. A lot of people, myself included, thought Meath would give them an almighty rattle. But Dublin went into the game like a side primed for the battle from hell. They were ready for something that Meath simply weren't.

I do feel that because of competition in the forward line, some of Dublin's players – like Paul Mannion, Dean Rock and Cormac Costello – are nearly trying too hard to make an impact when they get a chance.

Against Meath, there was a little bit of selfishness in some of their play – something I don't doubt Jim Gavin will have addressed this week.

To me, O'Gara is their best option at No 14. His strength is phenomenal and, when on his game, the man is almost unplayable.

I'm fast coming to the conclusion now that this is Dublin's All-Ireland to lose. When their heads are right – as they clearly were last Sunday – they are a team with almost everything.

Maybe when they come up against a very effective defensive unit, like say Donegal or Mayo, they might have difficulties. To me, they're the two teams probably best suited to catch them.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Irish Independent

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