Brolly’s message shouldn’t be lost in the medium
Having vigorously defended the farcical status quo Tyrone must also take responsibility for their on-field actions
Why Tyrone? Joe Brolly understands the mechanics of outrage well enough to appreciate that his timely outburst and unarguable concerns about the malaise of cynical play would arouse some vocal antipathy, which in turn would create a more widespread if private acceptance.
Had his point not been made in such an incendiary fashion, would it have attracted the same level of attention? Probably not. Is his point valid? Absolutely, and the complete absence of substantive – as opposed to stylistic – rebuttal indicates as much.
For a long time, observance of discipline within Gaelic games has been compromised by the dismal inadequacy of the punishments for breaking the rules of fair play.
As a natural consequence disregard for the rules has flourished and there has developed an unquestioning assumption that the Official Guide is an obstacle to be circumvented rather than a framework within which the games are expected to take place.
It was this landscape that the Football Review Committee sought to address when it brought forward a package of measures to counter cynical fouling, including the black card, which will be introduced next January and will punish pulling down, tripping and deliberately colliding with opposing players.
There’s a reasonable case to be made that these reforms should only be the start of a process to tighten up on cynical fouling, eg the introduction of suspension for cumulative yellow cards, but that will await the outcome of the new rules’ enforcement.
Why Tyrone? Brolly’s denunciation was directed at the fact that in successive weeks at Croke Park the county had been guilty of conspicuous infractions, most highly-profiled by the rugby tackles of Seán Cavanagh.
If this was to give the impression that such behaviour was the preserve of Tyrone and their leading player, such a perception would be wrong but it is not wrong to say that the county has demonstrated remarkable insouciance about such breaches of rule.
It may infuriate manager Mickey Harte that he has been asked to respond to strident, hot-of-the-airwaves punditry on successive weekends but equally, he has demonstrated a casual attitude towards the problem, most recently in taking a shoulder shrugging attitude to cynical fouls in the qualifier with Meath 11 days ago.
“It happened during the game. Both sides were guilty of it from time to time. So what?”
Last Saturday he again evinced the same reluctance to take responsibility for his own team, instead indulging in ‘what-about-ery’.
“Look at the game in its entirety and tell me how did the balance of fouling add up; give me the statistics of the whole game and then I will talk about the individual instances,” was his response to questions about the rugby tackling in the Monaghan quarter-final.
“It’s a worry that there is so much focus on little things (sic) that happened in the game and I’d like to think if you really forensically examine the whole game you might find other things of the same nature that you speak about. So I wish you would talk about the good game that we had there today and stop delving into the negativity.”
Seán Cavanagh, the target of Brolly’s displeasure for the 49th-minute rugby tackle on Conor McManus, bluntly stated his terms of engagement in an interview on Newstalk radio.
“It is cynical play. It’s unfortunate. I don’t want to play football like that… unfortunately the rules of GAA dictate that (when a man is through on goal) a yellow card does not mean that much to you.”
There has been something akin to a Pentecostal rush amongst players and former players to testify that they too would bring down the disappearing attacker if they had to. Some of this has been public and some has been in private conversation and gradually the rules have disappeared through the looking-glass to become an irritating – if admittedly optional – restraint on players ‘doing what has to be done’.
In a way this isn’t surprising. Breaking rules to suit oneself offers the possibility of advancement in all societies – as we are all too painfully aware. Therefore breaking rules has to be culminate in disadvantage; otherwise we end up with the current situation in Gaelic games in which many evidently believe that cheating is worthwhile.
Seán Cavanagh is saying that as a player more sinned against than sinning, he would prefer a regime where the punishment for what he did actually did mean something to him. Were the black card in force, would it have been worth it for Tyrone to lose their best player for the last 20 minutes of the match in order to avoid conceding two points?
The 2008 Footballer of the Year also blew apart his manager’s view of the issue, as expressed last March.
Ironically the congress debate on the black cards took place in a context in which Tyrone a week previously on an earlier visit to Croke Park this season had held Dublin out at the end of a league match and in the process committed a number of calculated infractions.
“I believe that referees have a yellow card to deal with the personal, deliberate foul,” said Harte afterwards. “And I think that will suffice. If it happens that somebody commits one in the last minute of the game, that’s the exception, not the rule.”
This was despite three of his players having been yellow carded in the last three minutes for cynical play.
They’re not the only ones but they have put themselves in the spotlight in recent weeks by exploiting the notoriously lax status quo, which as a county they sought to defend at Congress.
Nor is this selective criticism: when the new rules take effect they won’t apply just to Tyrone but to every county. And football will be better for that.