A far more cynical affair is expected when Tyrone face Donegal in the preliminary round of the Ulster football championship on May 17th than what was witnessed in Parnell Park last Saturday evening.
Several of the Tyrone players involved in their under-21 All-Ireland success will in time be added to Mickey Harte’s senior panel. Certainly Tipperary’s senior side will be stacked with members of the team, which agonisingly lost by a point, when they play Kerry on June 14th.
"We are in the real world," said Tyrone manager Feargal Logan in response to the charge of cynical play being levelled at his players by Tipperary manager Tommy Toomey.
Logan has lost two All-Ireland finals, for club and county in 1995, making him part of a Tyrone collective that decided defeat would never be offered to another opponent without the fiercest resistance. The defence of such actions being that they are a natural occurrence in elite sport.
“I don’t know a great deal about hurling but I have seen the way the Tipperary hurlers do their business sometimes. At high level sport . . . we put more on the scoreboard and that’s the determining feature.”
Tipperary manager Toomey basically agreed, stating his players would have to adapt to Tyrone’s Machiavellian attitude of the end justifying their means of victory.
Tyrone are rebuilding for the future with their greatest footballers from the past, Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan, also part of Logan's management team that delivered a national title at this age grade for the first time since 2001. The late Cormac McAnallen captained that team, which produced so many contributors to the 2003, '05 and '08 All-Ireland winning sides.
Structured cynical fouling has been evident in Gaelic football for almost two decades, and is a regular feature of Ulster teams but the black card, invented to deal with such behaviour, remained in referee Fergal Kelly’s pocket despite obvious instances when it could have been shown to Tyrone and Tipperary defenders.
Canavan, one of the great players of the 1990s and 2000s, who was often the victim of off-the-ball fouling, was adamant he does not condone nor coach cynical play.
“So I would be very disappointed if that was labelled at this team because that’s not what they’re coached and if there was cynical play it was towards the end of the game when there’s a team hanging on to a slender lead and it was instinct that may have took over in some cases. But I’ll make it clear, I have trained the team and there has been no cynical play involved in our training sessions and those fellas will back that up.”
And yet there was plenty of it as Tyrone clung to the slenderest lead on Saturday night.
“We could all look back at different incidents that happened in that game,” Canavan continued. “It could happen in any competitive game when there is so much at stake. We didn’t get here today playing cynical football,” he insisted.
Either way, after a disappointing league campaign, leading to relegation, Tyrone’s future looks bright again.
“There is a big step up from under-21 to senior level,” Canavan warned. “So what it does show is there is a lot of heart and determination and there is a group of young men who are prepared to do anything for the Tyrone jersey and that’s very pleasing.
“And it’s good to know that we have men there who have what it takes to win All-Ireland titles. And that will stand them in good stead in future years.
“And the other point is, I was speaking to a number of the senior players out on the pitch afterwards and I have no doubt that will serve as a fillip to them and give them a bit of encouragement going into Ballybofey, where everybody is writing them off and they have no chance of winning.”
Really though, Tyrone always believe they have a chance. What’s also apparent is in Logan, Canavan and Dooher, they have a ready-made management group should change ever occur at senior level.
“The man that Tyrone has there at the minute, I don’t think there’s anybody would question his credentials. He is the best man for the job. And he’ll remain there as long as he wants to be there. I think the players are very happy with that and I’m very happy with that.”