Mickey Harte reacts angrily to Brolly’s criticism

Tyrone circle the wagons following controversial incident which sparked criticism of their inspirational midfielder

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh is yellow carded by referee Cormac Reilly at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh is yellow carded by referee Cormac Reilly at Croke Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho


In true Ulster fashion, positions became immediately entrenched and words increasingly bitter as Tyrone manager Mickey Harte described RTÉ analyst Joe Brolly’s criticism of Seán Cavanagh as a “tirade.”

Harte still refuses to be interviewed by RTÉ.

What really came under the microscope after Tyrone’s return to an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 2009 is the power, or lack thereof, of referees to adequately punish highly cynical fouls.

Some context.

It’s the 49th minute and Conor McManus, Monaghan’s brilliant attacker, steps away from Dermot Carlin and thunders down on goal.

Actually, he doesn’t.

Seán Cavanagh, the four-time All Star midfielder and 2008 footballer of the year, rugby tackles him a yard outside the penalty area.

McManus’s subsequent free reduces Tyrone’s lead to 0-11 to 0-10 but Monaghan’s chance is gone. Cavanagh shrugs his shoulders and for the second championship game in succession receives a yellow card for a rugby tackle.

He is booed off the field afterwards.

Iconic figure
Brolly wailed about the message such an action, by such an iconic figure, sends to young players, and questioned Cavanagh’s integrity, but the man himself adopted the elite sportsman defence.

“It is unfortunate, I don’t want to play football like that,” Cavanagh told Newstalk after the 0-14 to 0-12 victory in Croke Park on Saturday. “I would love to be able to go through and play football wide open and attack because that’s what I do best but whenever a man’s going through on goal unfortunately the rules of GAA dictate that a yellow card doesn’t make a massive difference to you.

“You have to accept that you can do those sort of things.”

Next year the Football Review Committee recommendation of a “black card” will force managers to permanently replace a player if he commits such a foul.

“I would be the first person to advocate the black card because I have probably been pulled down more than any player in my career,” Cavanagh continued. “I’ve never ever got sent off in my football career for club or county. I never struck (an opponent) or ever played dirty football.

“You do whatever you need to do to win these games.”

But Tyrone boss Harte is against the black card.

“Probably throughout the noughties we have done so well with the current set of rules we have in the game,” said Cavanagh. “There’s maybe slightly resistance to change.”

In the 70th minute Peter Harte committed a similar rugby tackle and was also yellow -carded by Cormac Reilly.

“I would love somebody to take a close look at how many times he gets fouled and pulled,” said Mickey Harte.

“There’s pulling your jersey and holding you back, is that any less cynical than somebody taking you down on the spot?

“Let’s get real about all of this. Give us a forensic examination of all of this and then we might have a bigger picture not what appears to be a certain bias.”

A forensic examination shows Tyrone have always manipulated flaws in the rule book to systematically and cleverly foul to defend a lead.

This is nothing new. In the 2004 All-Ireland minor final Kerry’s Darran O’Sullivan received the ball seven times and was fouled eight times by seven different players.

When asked directly about Tyrone footballers rugby-tackling opponents, Harte said: “I would say look at the game in its entirety and tell me how did the balance of fouling against the person, how did it add up? Give me the statistics of the whole game. Then I’ll talk about the individual instances.”

Monaghan received 19 frees in the first half, committing 12 fouls, with these figures (seven to 10) dropping in the second half.

Tyrone received four yellow cards and Martin Penrose’s straight red for striking Dessie Mone. Monaghan received five yellow, two of which doubled up to make a red card for Kieran Hughes on 47 minutes.

Black cards
Kieran McGeeney, speaking on BBC, believes the awarding of a penalty, even if the foul happens outside the box, would be the best punishment.

“Black cards, I don’t think will stop it, because you only tend to do it in the last quarter of a game when you’re a couple of points up and a goal has a massive influence on a game,” McGeeney said.

“It’s a competitive edge in any sport...If it’s a thing that people are saying it’s creeping into our game, then you have to put a rule in to stop it.”

Until then, as Brolly stated, such behaviour will be “a template for clubs and counties all over the country.

“I was at an under-16 match on Wednesday night; two sweepers methodically pulling down the opposing team as they were coming up the field.

“This is how you do it, you get the job done, this is the new language. The euphemism for cheating is closing the game out.

“There is no other sport apart from Gaelic games where that is allowed.”