On the tenth anniversary of the term ‘puke football’, why are Tyrone still seen as the black sheep?
Pat Spillane plucked the phrase out of thin air but it has endured and has done Mickey Harte’s side no favours
Tyrone defenders swarm around a Kerry player during the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Tyrone won 0-13 to 0-6 and went on to defeat Armagh in the final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Pat Spillane didn’t know what he was going to say but he knew he was going to say something. Knew he had to. Knew he needed to place on public record the fact that this was no ordinary outrage that was tugging at his sleeve. The afternoon and early evening had passed since Tyrone had beaten Kerry and ever since early in the first half, Spillane had boiling up . Come showtime, he bubbled over. Michael Lyster asked him for his reaction and he plucked from thin air the two words that have followed him ever since.
It is 10 years to the day since the phrase tumbled from his lips. August 24, 2003 – Tyrone 0-13 Kerry 0-6. Páidí Ó Sé’s side fed through the mincer, covered up by a blanket defence made of steel wool. Séamus Moynihan shaking his head and saying it was like Times Square out there. And Spillane, with a seat on the Sunday Game couch that night, let slip the dogs of war.
“I don’t know where it came from,” he says. “It wasn’t a phrase I had heard, it wasn’t something that I prepared. I did have this feeling of anger at the way the game had gone and the build-up inside me since the end of the match meant that once we went on air, I knew I would have plenty to say. But it wasn’t like I thought of the phrase beforehand.
“That isn’t how it works. I would say that at least 99 per cent of the time, I’m talking straight off the top of my head. That’s the way I’ve always done things. I scored a goal against Tyrone in 1986 where I palmed the ball to the net. I had never attempted a goal like that before and I never did it again. It was purely what occurred to me in that split second. The puke football thing was like that. I just said it without thinking.”
Strip away emotion and county fidelity and it’s actually a magnificent phrase. It doesn’t make grammatical sense yet you know perfectly well what it’s getting at. Two nouns thrown out side by side – vomited out, almost – its author so apparently enraged that he had neither time or mood to arrange them properly.
If he’d said “puke-inducing football” or even “football to make you want to puke”, chances are it would have just been tossed on the pile of disposable Spillaneisms. But puke football endures, a killer soundbite worthy of the darker corners of the oeuvre of a Peter Mandelson.
“And I never said it again!” he says. “I said it once and never again except when people brought it up. I would genuinely say that over the years, I have said multiple times more positive things about Tyrone than negatives. They won three All- Irelands playing some excellent football and I have praised them countless times. But no one listens. All people remember is puke football.”