I had calmed down as the final whistle approached. Then the Studio Director poked his head out the door and told us that Martin Carney was thinking of Sean Cavanagh as ‘man of the match’.
I could feel it rising in me so I said; “If he is getting it, tell me now and I’ll leave.”
There was a bit of toing and froing, with the Director saying into his mic; “I think Joe’ll go off on one if Sean gets it.”
By the final whistle, I was under the impression that they had decided not to give it to him.
So I sat on. When it was announced live by Michael, it was too late. When I had finished there was total silence in the studio. It was a bit like a plane crash where the pilot has managed to steer it down safely.
Pat looked exhausted. Colm’s eyebrows were at his hairline. The crew was slack jawed. The Director, a seriously suave guy from Dublin, said into his mic to the bosses at Donnybrook; “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I woke up at home next morning to the sound of my voice on RTE radio. For a second I thought I was dreaming, then realised it was the main news.
The phone rang. “Its your mother” said my wife, “She isn’t happy.” I took the phone from her. “Hello mammy, what’s up.” “What in God’s name have you been saying about Tyrone?”
She was in Milan and had been contacted by reporters. She was most displeased and the remainder of our conversation is not suitable for those of a sensitive disposition.
God, (not the one we’ve never seen but the one from Ballygawley) texted me to say; “Jesus were you on the beer last night? We’re going to send you off first in the Errigal cycle next week and then let the chasing pack after you. The hounds after the hare!” You know things have gone completely out of control when Wendy Austin (Just remind me Joe, is it four points for a goal?), Marion Finucane, Nolan and the rest have it as the main item on their programme.
A mate of mine told me he overheard Orange bandsmen discussing it as they stood at the side of the road waiting for their bus in East Belfast.
I was very angry on Saturday and Sean was in the eye of the storm. But the point is far bigger than him or Tyrone or any of the other teams now routinely employing cynical fouling as a strategy.
The point is that we are the only sport that does not have proper sanctions for tactical fouling. Had Sean been playing for Ulster at Ravenhill (I know what you’re thinking) and committed a similar foul, a penalty try would have been awarded and he would have been sin-binned.
Afterwards, he would have been apologising to Tyrone supporters and teammates for his stupidity.
The depressing extent of the problem is illustrated by the numbers of young men who have asked me quite sincerely this week; “What else was he supposed to do?”
After the game Sean said; “I completely see where the pundits are coming from. It is cynical play. I don’t want to play football this way. But the rules dictate that a yellow card doesn’t mean that much to you.”
He went on to explain that he supported the black card but that until it came in, he would continue to exploit the gap in the rule book. Owen Mulligan said precisely the same thing on RTE’s Championship Matters after the Meath game the previous weekend.
This is the sorry state our game has reached.
Tyrone folk are upset at the moment, but the point is unarguable.
Mayo folk were equally livid when I pointed out Mayo’s systematic tactical fouling chapter and verse before last year’s All-Ireland final.
The Mayo backroom team actually believed I had conspired with Jim McGuinness. I was simply telling the truth about what we could all see for ourselves.
Twenty eight times they committed cynical fouls in that All-Ireland semi-final, which had an enormous bearing on the game.
In the last quarter, they simply hauled down and rugby tackled any Dub who got near the danger zone.
In the last three games, Big Sean has committed four rugby tackles, all of which have been executed at decisive moments in tight games.
His punishment? Three yellow cards.
As Sean put it to the Newstalk reporter; “It doesn’t worry me one bit.”
A spotlight is now trained on the problem. No one is glossing over it.
People are saying I was personal about Sean but they agree with the main point.
I was very angry on Saturday and I meant what I said, so I am not going to start using weasel words.
But having listened carefully to the tape again this morning, the phrase; “you can forget about him as far as he’s a man” was not fair.
For this, I have apologised to Sean.
What I meant was that as a sportsman, his conduct on the field leaves a lot to be desired. Sport is after all the ultimate character test.
The Tyrone half of my family are starting to thaw out. Enda McGinley texted me yesterday to say “See you in Errigal for the cycle. Bring your bodyguard. LOL”
Brendan McNamee, Errigal’s chairman asked me if I was in a ‘safe house’.
In Mayo, James Horan is wondering if the furore in the studio was raised by me deliberately to motivate Tyrone. Alex Ferguson cultivated such an attitude in his Man Utd teams for 20 years and as God said to me over the phone from Spain yesterday, “It is the best motivation the boys could have got. Horan will be raging.”
On Saturday week, 200 cyclists will depart from Ballygawley at 7.30am, beginning a 250 km round trip to Sligo town.
The proceeds raised will go to the Errigal club, the Michaela Foundation and Marie Curie.
If you want to come along and chase with the hounds, ring Brendan McNamee and pick up your cycle shirt and shotgun on the morning.