Tyrone's Tiernan McCann ban: Critics out of order, says ex-Red hand Noel McGinn
Former Tyrone defender Noel McGinn has more reason than most for leading the chorus of approval and relief now that Tiernan McCann's proposed eight-week ban for discrediting the GAA has been overruled.
McGinn, who played at centre-half-back for his county when they lost 2-15 to 1-10 to Kerry in the 1986 All-Ireland final, served a 72-week ban after head-butting a Clonoe player following the 2008 Tyrone Senior Football Championship final, in which he managed the losing Dromore side having taken them to their first title the previous year.
And while school principal McGinn, a Killyclogher club colleague of McCann, still has vivid memories of what he terms "the worst period of my life" he believes that the GAA and Gaelic Players Association have still some way to go in terms of how banned players are supported and encouraged in their rehabilitation.
McCann's theatrical dive while playing for Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final earlier this month led to Monaghan player Darren Hughes getting a red card and McCann himself incurring a proposed eight-week ban.
But on Wednesday night the Tyrone county board successfully appealed to the Central Hearings Committee to have the ban rescinded. Once again, though, the committee burned the midnight oil, something that only served to heighten anxiety and tension as the outcome of their deliberations was awaited.
Now McGinn is among many former stars in particular urging for players to be treated "much more sympathetically" when they incur the wrath of the powers that be.
"Apart from going to work, I scarcely left the house when I was serving my ban," recalled McGinn.
"I was a GAA recluse for many months before I eventually plucked up the courage to go and see Tyrone playing against Dublin at Croke Park in 2009 when the floodlights were formally switched on. But it was the worst period of my life.
"I paid the penalty for my offence in more ways than one. It's time that players who are banned were treated rather more sympathetically because the publicity attached to suspensions now can impact on a player's private life."
And McGinn maintains that the criticism levelled at McCann by RTE pundits Ciaran Whelan and Colm O'Rourke in particular and through social media has been "absolutely disgusting".
"What this lad has been subjected to is horrendous - absolutely disgusting. The whole thing was blown out of all proportion. Based on my own experience, I can only imagine the embarrassment, shame and disappointment that his family and friends felt," stated McGinn.
"You had Ciaran Whelan and Colm O'Rourke, both of whom played on Dublin and Meath teams which were not angels, pontificating on the issue and then you had what seemed like the whole world having its say on social media. No one deserves to come in for that sort of treatment."
And he suggests that the Gaelic Players Association could have given McCann more support but when this was put to GPA official Sean Potts, he painted a rather different picture.
"We were in touch with Tiernan a matter of hours after the game against Monaghan because we sensed that this was an issue which was not going to go away," pointed out Potts.
"We wanted to know how Tiernan felt within himself and if there was anything we could do for him. We were led to believe that the Tyrone management would handle the situation as is their prerogative and this being the case we were happy to leave it in their hands."
Despite the trauma which he has endured, McCann is primed to face Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday although McGinn acknowledges that this will represent a big test of his character.
"I think Tiernan is strong enough to come through this," maintained McGinn. "He has shown that he has adapted very well to the demands of inter-county football and I feel he can rise to the occasion. I know that all decent GAA followers will hope to see him prevail. He made a mistake and even without having to serve a ban there is no disputing he has suffered a lot because of all the attendant publicity"
Tyrone PRO Eunan Lindsay is urging fans to focus entirely on Sunday's game and put the 'Rufflegate' affair out of their minds.
"There has been enough said and written about this incident. We have a massive game against Kerry and our whole focus just has to be on this," commented Lindsay.
"We are going in against the reigning All-Ireland champions at Croke Park where they are invariably very comfortable and it will take the utmost concentration and effort if we are to come out on the right side."