Anti-Tyrone bias my arse! The onlooker can only describe what he sees. If players dive, feign, drag down, delay, then unless he chooses to ignore it (like SKY) or gloss over it with the new euphemisms (“closing out the game” or “excellent game management”), he is merely describing events accurately.
So, if the descriptions of what happened during the Tyrone/Monaghan game were honest, then they were accurate. In the same way, the impartial onlooker could only praise Tyrone for the manly and full-blooded way they played against Kerry. That is because they played in a manly and full-blooded way, not because there was any agenda to praise Tyrone. It might be said in passing that it is a sad reflection on Gaelic football where we have to praise a team for playing in the right spirit. But I think the events of the Tyrone/Monaghan match and the subsequent furore have done the game a service. It brought a spotlight onto this blight and I hope that it has to helped to bring us to our senses.
Tyrone are one of the great Gaelic football communities of Ireland and what has been happening before Sunday has been damaging to them and the game. The antics that have slowly, but surely polluted Gaelic football were highlighted by the previous Sunday’s epic hurling match between Galway and Tipperary. I watched that one thinking to myself, “Where did it all go wrong for football?”
On Sunday, Tyrone showed the real Tyrone, the one I painted my face for and stood in Hill 16 for in 1986. After a few minutes I was supporting them like the old days. When the penalty went in I jumped from my seat and punched the air, my knees brushing against Tomas O’Se’s back as I leapt. “F***ing calm down Brolly.”
The game was riveting. I said and wrote beforehand that the critical factor was whether Tyrone could score goals on the counter attack opportunities that would inevitably be presented by Kerry’s defensive system. Kerry put their sweepers along the 45 and try to corral the runners towards the sideline as they come through. If however the runners break through, then there is a clear path down the middle to goal. The same applies if Kerry’s kick-outs are turned over. The one disappointing feature of Tyrone’s game plan was that they permitted Kerry to kick short if they wished. That aside, their game plan was perfect. But it was the failure to score the goals that deprived them of what should have been a thrilling ambush. Tyrone came into the game having managed a woeful three goals in six championship games and none at all in their previous three games. A similar pattern was maintained throughout the league. Against a top four team, it was never going to do.
Counter attack goals are all about rehearsal. When Donegal or Mayo or Kerry or Dublin get turnover ball in the right position, they automatically go into goal formation. They run the lanes and they finish ruthlessly, generally to an empty net. Think Donegal’s three goals against the Dubs last year or Kerry v Kildare. It is the one area of Tyrone’s game that is incompetent.
The winning of the game came in the 25th minute. McAliskey running the left lane, Kerry defenders hopelessly chasing back towards their own goal with their backs to the play, McCurry in the perfect position on the right lane, parallel to the right post. Make no mistake. This was the moment. McAliskey saw him. But he didn’t give it. Had he done so, it was an empty net for McCurry and the Edendork dazzler doesn’t miss empty nets. But it wasn’t automatic, so they ballsed it up. A goal would have been a kick in the balls for Kerry. It would have been on like ‘Donkey Kong’ for Tyrone. They would have hit the dressing room a point up instead of a point down and Kerry would have been seeing the ghosts of autumns past.
Remember the impact of Donegal’s goal just before the half against the unbeatable Dubs? That’s what it would have been like. The second great counter attacking goal chance came in the 43rd minute. Again, once Tyrone got through the congested middle area, they were through on goal. All young Bradley had to do was take another few steps and pass it into the net beyond the stranded keeper. Again, it was ballsed up. Imagine it had been McFadden? A wee dummy, a wee walk round the keeper, BINGO.
Or any of the Donegal men? Or Connolly? Or Geaney? Or Brogan? Why? Because with Donegal and the others these counter attack goals are endlessly rehearsed. Again, it would have punctured Kerry, whose problem was that Tyrone’s brilliant inside defences meant that they did not have so much as a sniff of a goal chance. In fact, they didn’t even bother trying. So, they would have been reliant on points in the face of Tyrone goals either side of half-time.
It has been said that Kerry were the better team. True, they eked out difficult scores patiently, particularly in that area between wing forward and corner forward which was Tyrone’s only weak spot. Because Tyrone’s sweepers are goal keepers playing either side of the square, there is a bit of space between them and the sideline for the opposition to exploit. Yet if Tyrone had scored those two goals, Kerry’s patience and grit would not have mattered. The fact is they would never have engineered a goal. Also, those goals would have driven the Tyrone crowd to a frenzy and given the Tyrone players wings. The Kerry balloon would have been busted. Fitzmaurice or no Fitzmaurice.
As for the non-penalty, I will never understand it. O’Mahoney grabbed both McNulty’s upper arms in the small square. The only legitimate tackle is on the ball. Therefore it was a foul and therefore a penalty. O’Mahoney not only grabbed his arms but was off his own feet and his momentum spun McNulty. Whether he grabbed his arm to stay up or go down is irrelevant. It was a stonewall penalty. If it had been Gooch, it would have been.
Kevin McStay argued it was not, but then Kevin is the only man in the country who defended Padraig Hughes infamous penalty decision. His video analysis reminded me a bit of the defence team in the Rodney King case. What can one say only dearie, dearie me.
So, there it is. Tyrone are back. They have learned two valuable lessons. Firstly, they must play with honour. When they do, they are capable of winning Sam. Secondly, they must rehearse counter attack goals until they are second nature.
I was proud to be a northerner on Sunday. And proud to be a Gael.