Seán Cavanagh insists he has never cheated to win a free

Midfielder says Sunday Game analysts wrong to interpret grabbing opponent’s arm as ploy to con referee into giving hima free

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh: “I don’t know whether it’s part of the Irish media, whether they’re sometimes happy to go with the negative things rather than the positive things”.Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh: “I don’t know whether it’s part of the Irish media, whether they’re sometimes happy to go with the negative things rather than the positive things”.Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho


He has deliberately pulled down opponents before, has no problem admitting he’d do it again, but Seán Cavanagh insists he is no cheat. Nor does he like The Sunday Game branding him as one.

So he’s come out fighting, again, because this time he believes it is personal. And in a scathing attack on the “negative” tactics of The Sunday Game analysts, Cavanagh has accused them of singling him out for a crime he did not commit.


“It’s disappointing, because it does affect you,” says Cavanagh. “In the days after, your family and friends start telling you stories about people who aren’t that clued in on GAA telling them that, yet again, I’m some bad boy of GAA, always up to these sort of cheating tactics, or something.

“And my wife is a local GP, and she’s coming home to me and saying, ‘Oh, people from all cross sections of the community are complaining about you today again’.

“To me, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Because I don’t see myself as that type of player. And I wouldn’t like to be seen as that type of player. But obviously I’ve been here before, and I’m beginning to feel a little bit like Mario Balotelli.”

The Cavanagh incident highlighted in The Sunday Game came late in Tyrone’s Ulster quarter-final defeat to Monaghan last Sunday, when Cavanagh became entangled with Monaghan’s Darren Hughes: Tyrone won the free, Hughes was blackcarded, and analyst Joe Brolly immediately questioned the incident after RTÉ’s live coverage on The Sunday Game.

“Then of course you had the really dispiriting sight of Seán Cavanagh again. Running into contact, and as soon as he’s touched, he’s on the ground.

“Three times, he’s taken players’ arms under his, pulling them to the ground. It’s very, very unsavoury. It spoils the manliness of the game.”

Fellow analyst Pat Spillane agreed: “There is no doubt about it, he (Cavanagh) goes to ground very, very easily. And certainly Darren Hughes got sent off for a black card, and Darren Hughes didn’t even foul Seán Cavanagh. Seán Cavanagh held Darren Hughes by the hand, and pulled him down.”

Later, on The Sunday Game highlights, analyst Ciarán Whelan also talked over the slow-motion replay of the Cavanagh-Hughes incident, and claimed:

“If we look here, Seán Cavanagh holds his [Hughes’s] forearm, and pulls him straight to the ground . . . This is against the principle of the game, and something that has to be eradicated”.

For Cavanagh, all three analysts were wrong in this interpretation, because he “would never try to cheat to win a free in my life”.

This is not without irony, however, as last week Cavanagh admitted he would deliberately pull down a player - just like he did Monaghan’s Conor McManus in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final – if it meant saving his team from defeat.


“Last year, it was intentional, and I held my hands up and said, ‘Yeah, look, grand, I did it for the benefit of my team’. But on Sunday, and whenever you slow these tackles down to a milli-second, or whatever it is, you can read assumptions into it.

“The way I felt at the time was that Darren came in hard, and no matter what the outcome was going to be, it was going to be a free to us in the first place. I know he maybe had his left arm around me, on the other side, so okay, I was maybe holding his arm.

“But it’s not something you do. I would never try to cheat to win a free in my life. It’s more that whenever someone is coming at you at speed and you’re falling, it’s like a protection mechanism.

“It gives you a loose elbow or fist or whatever you get when you’re falling. These things happen so quickly, but to read an assumption into that, that I was trying to cheat, is really disappointing. Because I genuinely never tried to pull him down. It was never an intention to try and win a free in the first place.

“And I never actually knew it was a black card for Darren. I never even saw him going off.”

Cavanagh doesn’t deny that players often do drag opponents down to help win a free, but most referees copped on to that long ago. What might help is making such cynical play another reason to show that player a black card:

“It’s the oldest one in the book, the one I’m being accused of, people pulling someone in and throwing them on top of you. And there are players that will try and so-called cheat during games. Usually what happens is the referee will say, ‘Get up, you’re alright’ and move on.

“To me, those guys are trying to intentionally get someone blackcarded or do something like that. And I completely agree if anyone is caught trying to fool a referee or win something not warranted, they probably should get black or yellow. Possibly black is the right one, because it’s a sterner penalty.

“But coming towards the end of the game, players will still take black cards. It’s not right, but it’s a reality we’re still going to see black cards in the latter stages of games this year.”


Cavanagh went on to question what he termed the overall negativity of the RTÉ’s GAA analysis, arguing Sky are already presenting something different.

“I don’t know whether it’s part of the Irish media, whether they’re sometimes happy to go with the negative things than the positive things. That’s where sometimes the likes of Sky Sports coming in will maybe look at some of the more positive aspects of things.

“I don’t get to watch an awful lot of television, but I was watching The Sunday Game, on Sunday night, and was thinking to myself, ‘I’d hate to be a footballer from Clare’. They’d a great win over Waterford, are playing Kerry this weekend, and were probably mentioned for five seconds. And they spent a few minutes on Tyrone and myself and whatever else. It just seemed a wee bit unfair that they were spending more time on the negative things.”

Cavanagh was speaking in Dublin at the announcement of the GP’s three-year renewal of a sponsorship deal with professional services firm PwC.

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