Tony Scullion doesn’t hold cynical play against players – it’s the rules that are to blame
Passionate black card advocate admits he’d be cynical too if he was still playing football
Stephen O’Neill is shown a red card after a second yellow against Meath. The cynicism on show last weekend was probably no worse than at any other stage of the championship. Photograph: Inpho
As a defender in a Derry jersey, the last thing Tony Scullion ever pulled out of was a tough challenge. As a member of the Football Review Committee, his contribution from the Congress floor back in March stood out for its passion in the midst of a black card debate that was coming down to forensics and nit-picking. At one point, his microphone stopped working but he continued with his exhortations, undaunted.
A coaching development officer for the Ulster Council, the way the game is played matters to him and he can’t pretend otherwise. So as he has sat down and watched the games roll by this summer, he’s become more and more convinced that they work the FRC did last winter will ultimately prove worthwhile. Football is as cynical as ever but he doesn’t hold it against the players or the managers involved. Instead, it’s the lack of proper sanction in the rules that has made the game what it is.
Last weekend brought a few stand-out examples of the worst of the worst. Near the end of Tyrone’s win over Meath, Seán Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill picked up yellow cards – Cavanagh for a rugby tackle, O’Neill for one around the neck. There was no particular malice in either one but they were deliberate and they looked bad in players of their outsized talent. Still, Scullion holds no brief against them. They’re just products of a game that forces them into it.
“Seán Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill got the late cards last week but if you were their manager and they didn’t make those tackles, you’d be very annoyed” he says. “That was the proper thing to do at the proper time. That isn’t a Tyrone thing, it happens with every county. It was highlighted last week because it was on television but it happens in every club ground and county ground in Ireland.
“I would say they’re right to do it because the rulebook allows them to. The most important thing at the end of the day is to win. Whatever it takes to win within the rules, you’ll do it. So I would say fair play to those men because they’re only playing the rulebook as it exists. But when it comes to next year with the black card, they will have to think twice. No team will want to lose their best players and no player will want to spend the game on the sideline.”
The cynicism on show last weekend was probably no worse than at any other stage of the championship but the fact that it was in Croke Park and the fact that Tyrone were involved meant it stood out. Mickey Harte was highly irritated when it came up in the press conference afterwards, pointing out – not unreasonably – that they’d been as sinned against as sinning. Just maybe not as blatantly and not when the game was winding down to its end.