We need to talk about Tyrone GAA
A COUPLE of months ago, the Grange club in Armagh contacted me to participate in a ‘Night of Legends’ talk they were running and, obviously, I felt honoured to have been asked.
However, when they rang me back to check whether I would compere the night I was somewhat deflated as this instantly removed me from the ‘legend’ category. The three so-called legends who were asked to participate were Joe Kernan, James McCartan and the recently-retired Tyrone defender Conor Gormley - all from different eras in our game which meant lively debate and balanced argument.
And even though it was Gormley’s first foray into the talk night arena, the quietly-spoken but hard-hitting Carrickmore man more than held his own.
There is an opinion out there in the gaelic football world that our game is slowly but surely being suffocated with an over-defensive attitude and tactics whereby teams are trying not to lose instead of pushing on to win.
Yet these three experienced men disagreed with this assertion from people looking at our game through yesteryear’s rose-tinted glasses. They stated that our players are fitter, better prepared and more skilful than at any other time and that, because of so much coverage and analysis, we seem content to ridicule instead of highlighting positives in the game.
There also seemed to be a general consensus that even though we are delighted to have received so much coverage of our games in the last decade or so, pundits need to provide balance and unbiased opinion showing more regard for players and management teams and even the poor old referee.
There was genuine surprise from the legends that the mark got through at Congress after a very positive campaign by Jarlath Burns in its favour. Most of the panel felt that the mark might have a minimal effect and that there were more pressing concerns in our Association such as the fixtures calendar. All three conveyed disappointment that the proposal for shortening the calendar was not passed.
Regarding how the black card has influenced our game, there seemed to be unanimous agreement that it was not having the desired effect as cynicism is still very prevalent with one referee’s assertion as to what constitutes a black card nearly always different from another referee’s perception.
With two renowned forwards on the panel who would have taken their fair share of abuse over the years, I would have thought they might have agreed on the need for this disciplinary procedure. Yet they felt it was only heaping added pressure on referees who couldn’t handle the previous two-card scenario.
I put it to Gormley that I retired whenever tight jerseys came in and that the introduction of the black card possibly clinched his decision to retire as he might only have lasted about 10 minutes in every game. Without drawing breath he stated that he hadn’t received one black card yet in his career, to which wee James retorted “that’s because your challenges normally require an instant red card”. Somewhat harsh, but somewhat true...
It’s always interesting to find out who influenced county football stars when they were younger. And when big Joe was asked he didn’t have to think twice when he recalled the genius of Sean O’Neill whom he stated had everything a natural forward needed in his armoury – not only in his undoubted ability, but also in his capacity to lead and organise his other team-mates.
Wee James was also quite quick off the mark when he talked about players like Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston and Mikey Sheehy. Conor Gormley - not surprisingly but unfortunately justifiably - went for wee Peter Canavan [God], even though a Carrickmore man voting for an Errigal Ciaran man may not make him popular in Carmen when they hear that.
My biggest influences growing up were Martin Furlong from Offaly and John O’Leary - the man who reinvented goalkeeping and the importance of the position. I never got to say that on the night, so I thought I would throw it in here as it is my column.
I have been part of many of these talk nights when, at the end, they ask you your tip for the Ulster and All-Ireland titles. In recent years you could have had three or four different answers as to who will claim the Anglo-Celt Cup come July, but not so this time as one team dominated all the predictions on the night.
Mickey Harte might not want to hear it, but every pundit tipped the Red Hands as the team to beat. And even though Gormley was a tad coy and hesitant and gave the usual tepid appraisal that Tyrone will struggle to get out of Celtic Park against the old foe from Derry, even he had to relent and say his former team are the jollies at the moment with Donegal and Monaghan slightly behind them.
Regarding where Sam Maguire will rest in the third Sunday in September, the trio had a slight disagreement. Wee James asserted that if you were to ask that question for the next decade or so then Dublin will continue to be the team to beat. And although they might get caught on the hop once or twice, he added, their domination of county football is not going to disappear any time soon.
Big Joe and Conor both went for Kerry, stating that they seriously underperformed in last year’s decider. They concurred that the fact they are welcoming back most of their big hitters, allied with the pain of last year, might just provide enough sting in the tail for Eamon Fitzmaurice’s men to reverse the fortunes should they meet the Dubs in this year’s final.