Off The Fence

Off the Fence: Sperrins spat may be returning to level of 1990s

Tyrone's Hugh Pat McGeary tries to block Derry's James Kielt during last Saturday night's Dr McKenna Cup final
Picture by Philip Walsh
Off the Fence with Cahair O'Kane

THREE down, three to go. Maybe.

Tyrone and Derry have met in the Ó Fiaich Cup and twice in the Dr McKenna Cup already this season and, between them, the games have produced four red cards, 27 yellows and three black cards.

They have also produced some superb action, which the two league meetings (including their now inevitable meeting in the Division Two final) and Championship encounter have a lot to live up to. And they’ve also stoked the fires of a rivalry that hasn’t promised this kind of warfare since 1995.

Last Saturday night’s clash was attended by over 7,000 people. It drew a record viewership for Armagh TV, who brought Justin McNulty out of retirement for the evening (if you watched it, you’ll get it).

With Tyrone ending normal time with 13 men, Derry finishing with 14, Damian Barton being sent outside the wire after getting involved in a skirmish and the Oak Leafers ending the evening with two players in side-by-side cubicles at Craigavon Hospital, there were plenty of talking points.

 

‘CIARÁN from Ardboe’ couldn’t help but rub it in on some of his near neighbours on the lough shore: “Good for Tyrone to continue to show their obvious supremacy over Derry at the weekend," he wrote. 

"Beat them twice already in 2016 and it’ll be another twice at least by the end of the year. I know we will be in the league final, but they will probably self-implode as usual.

“Couldn’t beat us with 13 men on the field, so what chance when it really counts? The only thing that Barton will have learnt is that he shouldn’t be on pitch. He’s been with a number of top class club sides in Ulster and never achieved, so won’t do it at county level.”

 

‘SQUARE Ball 57’ emailed to give some advice to the two management teams: “Having been to both Tyrone v Derry McKenna Cup matches, it is interesting to note the tactics or antics of both team managers," they opened.  

“You have Mickey Harte standing on pitchside behind the sideline letting his boys get on with what they have been trained to do. On the other hand, you have Damian Barton running up and down the sideline, shouting constant instruction to his players, making brief incursions onto the pitch, which linesmen seem to ignore. Indeed, had officials stopped him from this practice, they would surely have prevented him from ‘sitting down on the job’ (ably assisted by Cathal McCarron) in the Athletic Grounds last Saturday evening.

“Think about it, in your workplace if you are trained and highly skilled at your job and your manager shouted constant instruction at you, you would be left with two choices, either invoke the organisation’s grievance procedure, or seek alternate employment, after you had left your manager ‘sitting down on the job’.”

For the Derry players and supporters, seeing their manager roll his sleeves up and get back into the trenches will do the very opposite of invoking a grievance from them.

 

‘FORMER South Derry Referee’ was on the path of Tiernán McCann following his challenge on Brendan Rogers at the game’s throw-in that left the young Slaughtneil man unable to curt anyone in the Bot until at least next Wednesday.

“Although still smarting after Derry’s agonising defeat, I do genuinely believe that some credit should go to the ref, whom I thought did a good job in what was a difficult game," he wrote.

“However, he did miss a very cynical and cheap shot by Tiernán McCann in the opening seconds, which ended Brendan Rogers’ game. Mr McCann was not even close to the ball when connecting with Brendan. Brendan is one of the most honest, fair and committed GAA sportsmen in Derry.

"Maybe Mr McCann’s actions were totally innocent. Maybe his well-groomed hair momentarily fell over his eyes and he didn’t see the Derry player. Mr McCann should be cited for his actions. Did he even offer an apology to Brendan Rogers? Well Mr McCann, did you?”

In fairness to Noel Mooney, pretty much everyone missed the tackle at the time. It was only when the video surfaced on Twitter that people realised. The incident didn’t paint McCann in a great light, it must be said.

 

‘A DISAPPOINTED Gael’, however, wasn’t quite so impressed as the rest of us were: “’Exhilarating’. ‘Good game’. ‘Epic’. Those are just some of the adjectives that have been used to describe the Dr McKenna Cup final on Saturday past," they wrote. 

"Seriously? Such words and compliments should only be reserved for finals such as that also held at Athletic Grounds on October 25 2015. The Ulster Senior Club Hurling final between Cushendall and Slaughtneil was a final worthy of such merit and praise. The Dr McKenna final, not so.

“I, unfortunately, was supporting the losing side of both encounters. However, although I was obviously gutted on the last Sunday of October, I also felt an immense sense of pride and gratitude to both sets of players, who entertained all present with such skill and passion and who played the match within the true spirit of everything that is (for now) great of the GAA. It truly was an ‘epic’ and not a broken bone, lacerated face or red card in sight.

“If Saturday night is indicative of what we can expect from the league and Championship, it is going to be a long year. Roll on October.”

Why must you compare apples with oranges? Both were epic in their own way. Slaughtneil v Cushendall might have been the better of the two, but the drama, tension and quality (despite the time of year) on Saturday night was still palpable.

 

LASTLY, ‘Concerned Antrim man Paudge’ hopes the Derry-Tyrone rivalry isn’t time-travelling back a couple of decades: “I sincerely hope that the Ulster Council take steps to ensure that future potential games between these two counties pass off without major incident," he said. 

"At the game last week, I attended as a neutral and saw not just men but women foaming at the mouth and eyes bulging and that was when the sides were warming up. What will it be like when the sun is high in the sky? 

“I just hope it’s not a return to the murky '90s, when both sets of supporters arrived on their horses in Clones and would lay into each other with bailing twine and dead fish. The worst thing about it is that, on Saturday night, both sets of supporters looked alike, as if they’re one big family. Make of that what you wish...”

The Tyronies brought lumps of alkathene pipe rather than bailing twine. Always cuter.

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Off The Fence