by John O’Hara
Dark Arts of Tyrone
Mickey Harte is often cast as the quiet, brooding and intelligent man that commands the line for his native Tyrone. He is, for the most part, something of a media darling on this island, held up as an example to others, but it’s time for the media to take the blinkers off and expose the master of the dark arts for what he really is.
After a fairly comprehensive defeat at the hands of Donegal in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship, Tyrone now find themselves in an all-Ireland semi-final, with Donegal and Ulster champions, Monaghan twiddling their thumbs for the rest of the summer.
Tyrone’s route to the quarter-final went largely unnoticed but the same could not be said for their quarter final win against Monaghan, where their trademark ‘dark arts’ were taken to a whole new level, with diving, off the ball hits, attempts to get opposing players sent off and management involved in scuffles on the pitch. All of this is happening on Harte’s watch, but no one in the media is prepared to call him on it, pointing fingers at everyone but the man at the top.
The first instance on Saturday of the cynical tactics of the red hand men was when Connor Myler tried to fool Marty Duffy into giving Kieran Hughes a black card, but Duffy, to his credit, saw through this and realised that Myler had run at Hughes and tried to make it look like the Monaghan man had taken him down.
Highlights of the game did not centre on some of the fine scores from Mickey Harte’s men, but instead the debate raged on the sly punches from Ronan McNamee, the feigning of injury from McAliskey and Harte’s trusted lieutenant Sean Cavanagh. Justin McMahon did his best to cause a row at every possible opportunity, to slow the game down and ensure Monaghan could not gain any momentum in their fight back. But most of the ire was reserved for the disgraceful Tiarnan McCann, who got Darren Hughes sent off, after he took the most ridiculous dive ever witnessed in Croke Park. Hughes brushed his hand through McCann’s hair and he immediately dropped to the ground, writhing in agony, as if shot by a sniper on the roof.
Colm O’Rourke, commenting on the Sunday Game, said that these type of tactics are, ‘following Tyrone around like a bad smell, before adding that Saturday’s game was ‘a new low for Tyrone GAA,’ Fellow analyst, former Dublin midfielder, Ciaran Whelan claimed that Tyrone were ‘letting themselves down,’ with this disgraceful behaviour. O’Rourke went as far to say that Tyrone players and management, who were also involved in scuffles, should be brought before the CCC for bringing the game into disrepute, in order to eradicate this behaviour.
It should also be noted that this is becoming a recurring theme when discussing Tyrone GAA. At the beginning of the summer, there were allegations that a Tyrone minor player taunted a Donegal minor over the death of his father, while in the senior game, Justin McMahon did his best Connor McGregor impersonation for seventy minutes, wrestling Michael Murphy to the ground at every opportunity. Luckily, football was the winner that day, when Murphy proved unstoppable with some exquisite free-kicks, but now that Tyrone are in the last four, it leaves a sour taste that cynical tactics are rewarded with success.
Even Tyrone’s U-21 all-Ireland win was mired in controversy, when the Tipperary manager refused the Tyrone manager entry to the losing dressing room, such was the level of verbal abuse his players had received on the field. He was taking a stand against this type of behaviour and wanted the world to know just exactly what went on during the match.
Back to yesterday’s game. Yes, Tyrone deserve credit for getting to an all-Ireland semi-final, after their preliminary round exit, but they have to be held to account for their actions and that includes the man at the top, Mickey Harte.
Mickey Harte, despite his saint-like caricature in the media, both north and south, has developed a culture of cynicism in Tyrone GAA that is taken onto the pitch via his right hand man, Sean Cavanagh, who seems to revel in this type of behaviour. Harte has cultivated a ‘them versus us’ attitude within Tyrone GAA and players seem willing to do anything they can to win a match, whether it is get a player sent off, feigning injury to waste time or take out an opposition player, who is deemed dangerous. The buck stops with Harte, if he really was ashamed of this type of behaviour, he would stamp it out, but in truth, it seems as if he encourages it. There is little evidence of this in truth, but there’s even less evidence of him condemning anyone who uses these tactics.
All of this is in stark contrast to the media portrayal of Jim McGuinness, following Donegal’s successful four year spell under his reign. McGuinness was painted as the pantomime villain who was out to destroy the GAA, with his negative tactics and blanket defence. Commentators were queuing up to take a pop at him and few were willing to give him any credit, especially in 2011, after the infamous semi-final with Dublin. I’m not suggesting McGuinness was an angel in terms of cynical tactics but at least the media called him on it, unlike the kid gloves they use when dealing with Mickey Harte.
It will be interesting to see if the GAA take any action against Tyrone, whose management were once again involved in scuffles on the side-line, replicating the behaviour of their management in Ballybofey at the beginning of the Championship season. Hopefully they will and Tiarnan McCann must not go unpunished or the GAA will be sending a very dangerous message to its players, who will think this type of behaviour is acceptable.
And in Tyrone, unless someone like Harte has the courage to stand up for the principles of the game, any success that is achieved the county will be tainted by the reputation their teams have for cynicism and cheating. But until the media starts asking the hard questions, Harte will continue to do nothing and we will see more of the same. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.