I was at a charity chat show for Marie Curie last Friday night, hosted by the Watty Graham’s Club in Maghera.
The BBC’s Tommy Niblock was the compere. Paul McCloskey the fighter, was beside me on one of McKeefrey’s plush hired couches, dressed like a Los Angeles rapper.
When he was welcomed on stage, the big, enthusiastic audience chanted “Dudey, Dudey, Dudey.” As they settled down, Tommy embarked on the sort of rambling question which made Adrian Logan a household name. The sort where at the end, the only real answer is yes or no.
“Logie: You have to say Tyrone were superb today. Peter and the team will be delighted to be in the next round. You must be a relieved man after what happened out there today (Laughs conspiratorially).
Peter: “Well . . . . Yes!”
Logie: “Mickey Harte, I’m sure, will also be a happy man, although Dublin will represent a big challenge in Croke Park in a fortnight’s time, but I’m sure Tyrone will be up for the challenge and it goes without saying Peter Canavan will be up for the challenge.” (Laughs conspiratorially).
Peter: “Well . . . Yes!”
Logie: “After what happened in the league of course, Tyrone won’t be taking anything for granted, Mickey Harte will not be taking anything for granted and Peter Canavan will certainly not be taking anything for granted. Is that a fair statement Peter?” (Laughs conspiratorially)
Peter: “No, yes, no, yes . . .”
Anyway, Tommy Corona’s opening question on Friday night was . . . long. When he came to the end of it, there was an expectant hush as the Dude calmly took the mic. “No harm to you sir, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”
The hall erupted in mirth, but the Dude’s answer turned out to be a metaphor for the evening. Tyrone’s Joe McMahon was there, looking as though he had just stepped out of the salon, hair sculpted, face shining, bedecked in designer clothes.
If Tommy thought it was hard to get an answer from the Dude, the Tyrone man presented the BBC man with an all together more complex puzzle.
He started with a straightforward loosener, asking Joe how he reacted to criticism from the Sunday game.
“Mickey doesn’t let us watch the Sunday Game.”
“Seriously?” said Tommy, echoing the thoughts of the audience.
“Yes” said Joe. “What about the papers? Presumably you read them?”
“No. Mickey prefers us not to read them. So, as a group we respect that decision.” Tommy battled on, straight into the main question: “Why are Tyrone players no longer making themselves available to RTE?”
“Mickey told us that he was withdrawing his co-operation because of their failure to make Brian Carthy their radio commentator for the big games. He asked us to respect that decision.”
“What do you personally think of Mickey’s decision?”
“I don’t really have a personal view on it. We are respecting it as a group.”
Insofar as penetration goes, Tommy was about as successful as a eunuch in a hareem. Yet it was an interesting insight into the strength of the Tyrone group. It reinforced their absolute loyalty and solidarity. This is not simply a position adopted on TV or in public situations.
I know a lot of the Tyrone lads past and present. I have drunk pints with some of them in the off-season. The Tyrone senior football squad is off limits. Never a stray word. Never a tale told. The News of the World couldn’t infiltrate them. Their greatest strength is that they set their own value on their worth, disregarding any outside analysis.
In the second half of the evening, the chat turned to the Ulster championship. Joe was asked if Tyrone would win it. “Well, he said, there are a lot of great teams out there at the minute.” “Who?” asked Tommy (having learned his lesson from the Dude). “Derry’s a great team” said Joe. I interrupted: “Is there another Derry somewhere in Ulster?” Joe was undeterred. “Derry’s a great team and we have the greatest respect for them. Armagh are also a great team with an unbelievable record.”
“What about Donegal?” asked Tommy.
Joe paused. Suddenly the crowd were interested. “Donegal are a very interesting team. They have a very interesting manager. This year they are totally different from what they were before. They are going to be extremely hard to beat.”
“Will you beat them?” asked Tommy
“We go out to win every game” said Joe and with that, the topic was closed.
Joe is right. Donegal are a totally different team under Jimmy. When they played Tyrone in the past, they were lambs to the slaughter. Going out to play off the cuff football against Tyrone is like the Irish peasantry charging towards the rows of English riflemen, waving their pikes and roaring.
Now, Donegal have method. Which brings them to a whole new ball game. Their astute manager has given them proper tools. On Sunday week, we will be greeted with an unusual sight. Donegal men will not be waving pikes nor hurling themselves hopelessly at Tyrone’s blanket defence.