Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Tyrone not a dirty team, says Stephen O'Neill

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Stephen O'Neill celebrate victory over Monaghan
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and Stephen O'Neill celebrate victory over Monaghan

Stevie O'Neill gets right down to it when he is asked if, on the balance of things, Tyrone get a raw deal with how they are assessed and analysed.

“There always seems to be a negative feeling towards Tyrone,” he begins.

“Maybe comments made about certain players and certain styles of play. It was there in the past but we're not too worried. We're just concentrating on one thing.”

With former team mates and current players all coming out and batting for Sean Cavanagh after the blasting he received for his pull-down on Conor McManus, Red Hands captain O'Neill feels that all the noise and fury won't be taking a flinch out of the 2008 Player of the Year.

“I've played with Sean for the last 10, 12 years and, knowing the man, it won't faze him one bit,” O’Neill adds.

“He's been a brilliant servant for Tyrone. He's a complete gentleman, on and off the pitch. I've played against him in club games and you couldn't get a nicer fella.”

While the likes of Peter Canavan, Brian McGuigan and Ryan McMenamin have all stated that they feel the anti-Tyrone sentiment will be playing into Mickey Harte's hands, O'Neill feels that any kind of negative energy only detracts from their stated aims when you get as far as they have.

“I think it's a bad thing to be using that as motivation at this stage of the year. If you have to use a thing like a 'them and us' situation to go out in an All-Ireland semi-final, it's a bad thing,” he says.

While O'Neill insists the players are at a remove from the ongoing accusations of cynical play, the Tyrone county board felt strongly enough about how the narrative is directed that they handed out the by-now infamous ‘Facts…' document at their press night last Wednesday.

“When people are sitting in TV studios and in front of an audience of maybe a million people, they have a big influence,” O’Neill adds.

“I suppose they're depending on these pundits for good analysis. They make general statements with very little evidence to back them up.”

He continues: “There's a general perception out there that Tyrone are a dirty, cynical team. We're definitely not… I've played under Mickey Harte since '97 and I've never been coached any cynicism.”

What must frustrate O'Neill is how he was in the form of his life during the league before he went over on a stray football prior to the league final, putting him out of that game.

He came back in time for Donegal but wasn't looking his old self. His Achilles then flared up as the ground got harder and after a month of rehab he needed a shot of cortisone into the ankle to relieve some of the pain.O'Neill struggled through the qualifiers, his performances mirroring that of the collective team, but now he is here, the break since the Monaghan game having served him well and he even got through a club game in the meantime.

His longevity continues to amaze but he is realistic to know that if the end is not exactly in sight, a light has come on the dashboard. Two games is all that is left to claim an All-Ireland.

“If you want to be successful you want to win something so there's no point in just getting to a quarter-final or semi-final,” he continues.

“There are no medals there. I suppose like any player, it doesn't matter what age you are, if you don't get to the final and get a medal it's an unsuccessful season.”

Back in late May, most wouldn't have gave you tuppence for Tyrone after Donegal controlled their first-round game from start to finish.

Yet that evening they circled up under a dark sky and swore they would reach the All-Ireland quarter finals.

O'Neill never doubted their ability to get there.

“I honestly believed that it was. I could see that the talent was there in the younger lads who were coming through and I knew if we got a wee bit of luck on our run that we could qualify for the quarter-finals, or even the semi-finals.

 “After that all you need is a few men to hit top form and that wee bit of luck to get through,” he says.

And while Tyrone have stuttered and stammered their way here, Mayo have been purring along, laying waste to all and sundry. In order to get a handle on them, they are going to have to summon another majestic performance from Sean Cavanagh, no matter what the critics say.

“Sean has been super for us these last two or three games, he's just been unbelievable, dragging us through. But hopefully on Sunday week there will be a few more men who step up to the plate and give him a hand,” O’Neill says.

Like himself, of course.

--

An investigation into the glitch in the system that caused Hawkeye to fail during Sunday's All-Ireland minor semi-final was conducted by the GAA yesterday.

After a graphic inconsistency appeared on the big screen, an internal investigation in conjunction with Hawkeye began on Sunday, with the findings being examined yesterday. It is expected it will be in full working order by Sunday for Tyrone's senior and minor football All-Ireland semi-finals.

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