Tyrone manager Harte pleads for level playing field
One thing that drives managers, players and supporters mad is refereeing inconsistency.
While the debate on changing the rules of Gaelic football in accordance to the suggestions of the Football Review Committee becomes ever-more nuanced and defined, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has only ever requested that the rules — as they stand now — are applied consistently.
Last Saturday night in Newry was a poor night for refereeing. Referee Barry Cassidy, along with his linesmen Joe McQuillan and Martin McNally had a difficult game to referee, but so many of their decisions seemed to be on an ad-hoc basis.
It led to frustration among both teams which exacerbated the situation. Afterwards, Harte fumed, “One thing that was a foul, another thing wasn't. There were things going on that appeared to be very much a foul that weren't blown, and things that seemed rather trivial that weren't blown for.”
On 17 minutes, Down's Kalum King was awarded a yellow card. Five minutes later he caught opponent Joe McMahon around the face. Cassidy opted not to award the second yellow.
McMahon was in the wars throughout. Harte claimed afterwards, “I think Joe McMahon's sending-off wasn't very fair either. When you pass the ball and go on for a return and some player stands in your road and he pushes him out of the road —who is at fault here?
“I thought that this was a thing that a yellow card was meant to be for, obstructing and blocking a player as he passes the ball. That's what he got his first yellow card for which ultimately resulted in him being sent off, which is not fair.”
Although Harte is correct in making his assertion about blocking off a run being the punishable offence, McMahon could consider himself lucky he was not awarded a straight red card, therefore earning a suspension as he appeared to kick out at Down substitute Paul McComiskey.
The response of his players after McMahon's dismissal pleased Harte, who explained the mysteries of the 14-man-phenomenon.
“I suppose that's typical of what can happen when a team gets an extra man; they are the ones that take the foot off the pedal a bit and they believe that one they have the superior number, they don't have to work as hard as we used to.”
He continued, “Unfortunately when that sets into players it's very hard to get it out of them again. And the team that's a man down know that everything is vital so every man has to step up a gear. That's what our players did at that vital time. They were very composed, they got those scores that made a difference and they played the ball safely.”
This is a new Tyrone side and they are growing up fast. While the wings are flooded with youth, it is telling that the spine of team from full-back on Saturday night read; Conor Gormley, Joe McMahon, Sean Cavanagh and Justin McMahon at midfield, Peter Harte and Stephen O'Neill.
When they sat down in the dressing room at half-time 0-7 to 0-5 down, Harte maintains that it wasn't a case of the penny having to drop in their first serious test of the year.
“I think the players themselves… We didn't have to say an awful lot, they were awful unhappy with the way the game had been going. They were unhappy that they were second best to most things. Down were coming at them in droves, it was tough days for the people at the back and on the inside because they were grossly outnumbered with men coming at them.
“We had to do something about that and maybe match our men better than we had been doing up to that point, and I think we managed that in the second half.”
There are few in the game that have the game sense of the Tyrone management. While Mattie Donnelly was an effervescent presence on the wing in the first half, his deployment thereafter as a man-marker for Benny Coulter was a masterstroke.
Coulter drifted out of the game as Tyrone took charge.
For now, they are safely back into the swing of division one.
Next week they make the trip to Castlebar to face All-Ireland finalists Mayo.
Harte said: “Mayo have been the most consistent team in league football and they have been in Division One longer than anybody else and they have home advantage as well.
“It doesn't get any easier; that's what we were saying tonight, it was a tough battle, this is welcome to Division One, and from here on in it probably gets harder.”