GAA Football

Tyrone eye overturning late Conor McKenna red card after hard-fought win in Fermanagh

Tyrone joint-managers Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan before the Ulster SFC preliminary round win over Fermanagh at Brewster Park, Enniskillen. Pic Philip Walsh
Kenny Archer at Brewster Park

Ulster SFC preliminary round: Fermanagh 2-10 Tyrone 2-17

THERE'LL be a close eye over the coming days on the injury-time incident which led to Tyrone star Conor McKenna's straight red card - with the Red Hands likely to allege that a Fermanagh glove was too close to the eye of Conn Kilpatrick.

Tyrone's defence of Eglish man McKenna won't be 'self-defence' but rather his attempt to protect his grounded team-mate. The phrase 'eye-gouging' wasn't used, at least not on the record, but there is clear video evidence which appears to show 'contact with the eye area', to use the rugby terminology.

The late scuffle and the flash of red from referee Joe McQuillan to game-changer McKenna over-shadowed an ultimately comfortable victory for Tyrone, albeit after a bright first half from hosts Fermanagh.

The Ernemen eventually scored more than they'd ever managed in 20 previous Championship encounters against their neighbours but still fell far short as Tyrone clocked up their equal second highest tally in this match-up.

Joint-manager Feargal Logan was content with the second half display, but he knows he'll be deploying his day job experience as a lawyer in an effort to free the highly-talented McKenna to meet Derry in Healy Park on May Day.

Logan indicated that McKenna will seek a hearing to oppose any proposed suspension, arguing that the Eglish player should not be cited for 'contributing to a melee':

"Joe McQuillan had a very difficult job out there, and did very well, but ultimately there are some times on a football field when a player isn't contributing to a melee, and he's simply looking to the safety of his own team-mate, or to the safety of others.

"And on this occasion we firmly believe that Conor was looking to the safety of one of his team-mates, and that's simply why he moved towards the matters.

"I'm going to leave it for everybody else to watch the video and work it out for themselves, but at some stage there must be justification on a football field to begin to assist and see to the safety of others.

"Sometimes lines are crossed on football fields by players, and they regret them, and sometimes it's not appropriate. But there are times when lines are crossed and people have to take action in the vicinity, and that's where it's at."

Logan, who has often represented players within the GAA's disciplinary process, suggested that the Association may have to look at that particular charge again, with Armagh still fighting against suspensions for three players arising from their last League match against their Championship opponents next weekend, Donegal:

"It's fair to say I have been deeply involved in GAA disciplinary processes for a long number of years now, and from virtually every angle of it.

"Let me say it's causing a lot of difficulty, this position in terms of contributing to a melee. I know Armagh are in pursuit of it at the moment…"

The Stewartstown man expressed hope that McKenna will be reprieved on the basis of video evidence, commenting:

"It's most unfortunate that in the dying embers again of a game, something would happen, but we would trust and hope that the checks and balances that prevail in the GAA disciplinary system are there for a reason.

"They're there for a very sound and good reason, because it's impossible for referees and umpires to get everything right, and in that regard, we look forward to seeing how the checks and balances within the disciplinary system work.

"The rulebook clearly allows for video analysis after the fact, and there's a default position, in fairness to referees, to protect the referees and to protect the players.

"So there's a post-fact analysis, and then you anticipate that you will get a full, clear hearing in front of a hearings committee.

"If Conor McKenna goes for this… at that hearing you expect full transparency and the video will be available."

Logan acknowledge that the red card was 'an unnecessary distraction' ahead of the quarter-final against another set of neighbours, Derry, but added:

"That's right, but football's football. We have all been about it long enough to know that not everything goes in a straight line and we can now focus back into the game against Derry in a couple of weeks' time in Healy Park.

"There's Fermanagh put it up to us fulsomely tonight. So there is nothing straightforward in this game, whether you are champions or you are at the bottom of the heap, it's 15 on 15 and Fermanagh gave us a fair shock there tonight.

"But happily, we are out the back of it. Yes, there is this side issue to be dealt with and looked at. But I am a long time in football and have been about a lot of disciplinary stuff, let's put it that way.

As for the actual football, Logan acknowledged Tyrone under-performed in the first half: "It took a wee bit of tidy up at half-time and a bit of focus. But all things considered, they certainly put in a big shift the first 20 minutes of the second half.

"The first half, there was energy amiss. It was very, very difficult and it took a wake-up call at half-time to regroup and get at it in the second half."

The two late goals conceded were a concern, Logan agreed: "It's as well we had a good lead built up when you conduct yourselves like that in front of your own goal. But we were able to ship them and manage them.

"At times tonight I thought Fermanagh were going to send us home to Tyrone with our tails big-time between our legs. But happily it worked out."

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