Off The Fence

Off the Fence: Everything must go in annual clearout

Tyrone fans have been calling for an end to Mickey Harte's reign following their loss to Dublin. Picture by Philip Walsh

ROLL up, roll up, it’s time for the extraordinary annual Ulster GAA clearance sale, where everything must go.

Mickey Harte must go. Defensive football must go. RTÉ must go. Dublin’s money must go. Sean Cavanagh… well, he’s gone.

There’s rarely any sense of perspective at such a mournful time. Everything is wrong and nothing is right. In the space of two hours, everything good that Tyrone have done pretty much since 1995 has been rendered a suspect ready for questioning.

The fittest, fastest, strongest, best team in Ulster weren’t fit, fast, strong or good enough. So naturally, the whole thing is useless.

A month ago people were lauding the presence of five Ulster teams in the last 12. Now they’re telling us the province has to tear up its entire manuscript and start over.

There’s such a mixture of emotions bubbling around the Red Hand county that perhaps it’s best to start with a neutral perspective on it all from ‘Antrim Gael’.

“There's no doubt that Dublin fully merited their victory over Tyrone, they are a brilliant side and that has to be acknowledged.

“It also has to be said that Ulster football at senior county level is in a dire place.

“This ultra negative, defensive, tactical blanket stuff, call it what you will, is now dead in the water, Dublin put it to the sword.

“Ulster counties have to get back to letting natural football talent dictate again and allow footballers, especially young fellas, to enjoy Gaelic football once more.

“Ability has been stifled to allow for complex, dire, grey game plans and Ulster as a province is suffering.

“Where are the Lindens, McCartans, Blaneys, Tohills, McHughs, Canavans, O'Neills, McConvilles, McDonnells etc now in Ulster football?

“The emphasis on modern day 'stop the opposition at all costs' has been to the detriment of good players natural instincts and talent.

“Self-indulgent, navel-gazing lifestyle gurus, seaweed baths, green diets, 6am chanting and beating yourself with bamboo sticks for daring to enjoy playing have taken over and it's ALL nonsense.

“Thirdly while Dublin are in a Golden era there's no doubt that the GAA hierarchy have helped put them there and other counties, and cities, have lost out big time. Dublin have received approximately €16million in funding over the past decade from Central Council and they have taken advantage massively and who could blame them?

“However compare this to Belfast and Antrim which is struggling on a daily basis to keep Gaelic Games alive and the GAA should hang it's head in shame at their total neglect of Ireland's second city.

“It wouldn't be unfair to say that the Irish Football Association have probably put more coaching into Nationalist districts of Belfast than Croke Park has done and that is an indictment on the GAA.”

CO’K: There certainly has been an over-emphasis up here on systems over style, but sometimes it takes a defeat like this to make us see it. Winning teams set the trends and looking at Dublin, Mayo and Kerry over the past few years, the emphasis on improving the basic skills will surely heighten now.

Likewise, ‘Down Gaelic purist’ think these are the last days of the blanket.

“We probably, at last, watched the death knell for blanket defensive football. I always reckoned it was based on the negative assumption that we’re not good enough, but we’ll be able to stop the other team playing. It was so refreshing to watch the under-17 and minor games yesterday, but when they come to senior they’re told ‘no boys, this isn’t the way you play it, you play puke football’. No wonder we’re losing our best players to Australian Rules, soccer, rugby etc. There is a new dawn for Gaelic. The cream will always come to the top, as Dublin showed. Good, skilful players will always prevail.

CO’K: Nobody plays a blanket on its own any more. They all have counter-attacking plans, just as Tyrone had. Theirs just didn’t work.

‘Tyrone Supporter Joe’ was scathing in his assessment of his county’s performance and used it as a stick with which to beat the manager under a heading “It’s time for Mickey & co to go”.

“Embarrassing, bewildering, boring, humiliating, nauseating are some of the many adjectives that could be used to describe the Tyrone performance against Dublin.

“Dublin literally shredded the much-vaunted Tyrone blanket defence and threw it in the bin!

“This present Tyrone team management have not won a match against a top team in the Championship at Croke Park since 2008.

“They took an All Ireland under 21 winning team of a few years ago and literally de-skilled them getting them to fit into an archaic robotic system of play that was ultimately destined to fail.

“Tyrone supporters who fund the team have been listening to the same old rhetoric this past number of years from the management that ‘These boys don’t know when to quit’. Really?

“It’s time to go back to the drawing board and make a new beginning under new management with fresh ideas.

“Tyrone supporters expect their representatives to play with some menace and emulate players of the quality of Ryan McMenamin, Connor Gormley etc and not to roll over timidly and accept their fate.

“They should be prepared to ‘die with their boots on’ as the late Eamon Coleman said,’ Nice boys win nothing’.”

CO’K: Tyrone were too nice on Sunday but Dublin took the sting out of their defensive effort so early with the goal. It meant they didn’t have to go into contact for the rest of the day. You say, rightly, that Tyrone haven’t won a big game in Croker since ’08 but that overlooks the gradual break-up of their greatest ever team, which didn’t end really until 2014, and the time it takes to build a new one with a new style of play. That they were even in Croke Park through those years was an achievement.

‘Seàn’ (isn’t it hard to beat a good fada?) was also questioning of the Tyrone manager, who now faces a battle to get back in with his term of office now up.

“Whilst not an ardent fan of Dublin you just have to admire their patience, power and movement. They humiliated the negative and overbearing Tyrone blanket defence. Tyrone who destroyed and took the 'foot' out of Gaelic football got what they justly deserved, a lesson in football. Surely Mickey Harte is finished now.”

‘Michael’ added: “They talk about a plan B – they had a plan nothing. They stood up along the half-back line and Dublin tore them to shreds. That team will never win an All-Ireland. It’s time Tyrone county board wised up and got rid of Mickey Harte.”

A further ‘Anonymous’ caller was prepared to show his working out but still arrived at the same conclusion.

“It was probably the worst day being in Croke Park as a Tyrone supporter in a long, long time. I appreciate everything Mickey Harte has done for Tyrone, he’s been an absolute legend, but he’s had nine years building this team. Last year, the defeat to Mayo people thought it was a one-off and that we were building. I think now Mickey’s taken this team as far as he can.

“We have the under-21 management that won us an All-Ireland. Give Feargal Logan, Brian Dooher and Peter Canavan a three-year ticket with Peter Donnelly coaching them and I believe they can do it. It shouldn’t be Mickey’s choice whether he stays or not. It’s unfortunate that the Tyrone county board are going to have to tell him now that we need him to step aside. We need a new fresh voice. The talent’s there but Dublin tore the defensive system to shreds.”

CO’K: That trio have strong credentials indeed and when the day does come that Mickey Harte is no longer manager, whether this year or some time in the future, they will surely be at the forefront of the discussion.

And lastly, ‘Sean from Newry’ (no fada) might have been over-egging any intention to support Tyrone in the first place but any chance they had with him was sunk before throw-in.

“I’ve no sympathy for Tyrone footballers. Before the game started, they lined up behind the Artane Band and before they got to Hill 16, the Tyrone team broke off. They showed no respect for anybody.”

CO’K: Showing respect to the Hill has become like showing respect to the Haka. To do so is taken as a sign of weakness. To break ranks is red rag to a bull. I don’t think it mattered too much either way.

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Off The Fence