Kevin Madden: Tyrone turn it on when needed but McKenna red card leaves unsavoury taste in the mouth
FIRST day out, as the Ulster Championship game between Tyrone and Fermanagh entered the closing stages, I pondered what areas were up for discussion as I began to pen my first column of the year.
The brilliant first half performance of the Ernemen as they had the All-Ireland champions on the rack was sure to be a major talking point. The narrative that perhaps Tyrone had taken their opponents lightly wasn’t how I saw it.
I actually felt the opposite was the case and Tyrone were much too cautious in their approach. The first phase of the attack was much too ponderous.
The press on the Fermanagh kick-out was either not there or badly structured. Kieran Donnelly’s men set up the spear with seven or so men aligning in a linear shape before splitting to the wings.
It wasn’t until Tyrone went to a more traditional man-to-man approach in the second half, that they got joy from Sean McNally’s restarts.
The big moments in the game came on 32 minutes. Firstly, Declan McCusker intercepted a pass from Frank Burns meant for Kieran McGeary. As he played the one two with Darragh McGurn, I felt that the return pass to him was just a bit light, otherwise it was a clear two v one goal chance inside.
A two-point lead easily should have been four. Within 30 seconds, the imperious Conor Meyler had the ball in the net after initially starting to run with it on the other 45. This score changed the balance of momentum going into half-time.
Fermanagh will be kicking themselves. They scored 2-10 against the All-Ireland champions but missed another four really good goal chances. But Tyrone showed their class by ramping it up when required to do so.
Darren McCurry once again showed why he is one of the best forwards in the country at present with his movement and scoretaking. This injection was also enabled by the introduction of Conor McKenna who brought a level of direct running, power and scoring taking and making that Fermanagh couldn’t live with.
The Red Hands put the game to bed in a 20-minute period just after half-time that saw them tag on 1-8. Fermanagh never scored at all in this period as the game slipped away. But credit to them as they showed great spirit to hang in there and fight to the bitter end. Did someone mention fight?
A GAA schmozzle is a bit like the oul' Tayto Cheese and onion. You have a northern version and then you have it’s southern counterpart. Apart from the colour of the bag, the crisps pretty much look and taste the same. But the two versions of the schmozzle couldn’t be more different.
The northern one is quite unsavoury to say the least while it’s more flavoursome southern cousin is perceived to be much more appealing on the palate.
In recent weeks, there has been a clear distinction made between similar incidents involving teams from Ulster and teams from the other provinces. It must be said that certain sections of the media have been complicit in their hypocrisy as they describe one as a ‘melee’ while the other is just brushed off as ‘handbags’.
Take the Dublin v Kerry League game back in February. As John Small aggressively grappled at David Clifford, Davy Byrne was the third man in to add more brawn to the occasion.
Within seconds you have 20 players involved in what was described as a bit of ‘handbags’ with no major cards handed out. Compare this to the David Gough show when Tyrone received four reds against Armagh.
It must be said that the whole incident which lead to Conor McKenna's red card on Saturday night was very avoidable, as it was clear that Conn Kilpatrick was fouled as he attempted to claim a mark. Presumably McKenna was sent off for being the third man in, ‘contributing to a melee.’ But context must be added.
There were already three Fermanagh players standing over Kilpatrick. One had a toe poke at his back while another was clearly seen shoving his face towards the ground. But all three were contributing to give the Tyrone player some special attention before McKenna weighs in to shove over the player who has his hand on Kilpatrick’s face.
Another two Fermanagh players then take to McKenna before he retaliated. So if McKenna deserved a red then, there was two, possibly three, Fermanagh players who deserved the same punishment.
It’s not easy for officials who don’t have the benefit of replays and only get the one chance to try and spot all the misdemeanours. But all we ask is for some balance across the board when it comes to the schmozzle.
One nation, one GAA, one Tayto.