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Final moments of All-Ireland championship left sour taste

By Joe Kernan

At different stages over the course of the summer, Tyrone in particular have been accused of actually coaching cynical play.

The charge was initially levelled at their senior framework and subsequently filtered through to their minor squad with manager Mickey Donnelly forced to mount a robust defence of his players prior to the All-Ireland final defeat to Mayo.

Whether a team or teams coach cynicism remains a debateable point but there is absolutely no doubt that several teams practise this insidious trait, some it would have to be said with considerable success.

It is bad enough that teams should have to resort to blatant fouling, time-wasting, deviousness and cheating to win games but when hypocrisy is thrown into the mix this merely has the effect of making a bad situation worse.

When Dublin overcame Kerry in a classic All-Ireland semi-final on September 1 that will be remembered for many a long day, their manager Jim Gavin was naturally keen to highlight what he felt were the intrinsic virtues espoused by his side.

“Dublin played football in this game the way we hope it should be played,” declared Gavin.

“We kept to our core principles and the players got their just rewards in the end. We encourage them to play open and expansive football, the way the game should be played.”

Yet it was by deserting those same core principles to which Gavin so confidently alluded that Dublin indeed got their just rewards in last Sunday’s All-Ireland final against Mayo.

But with victory came an undeniable stench that has permeated down to the grassroots of the GAA.

When Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh hauled down Monaghan’s Conor McManus via a rugby tackle in the All-Ireland quarter-finals last month, he was roundly pilloried, with his very qualities as a man coming under scrutiny.

Yet I have seen no real similar trenchant criticism of the tactics applied by Dublin, either individually or collectively, in the closing stages of last Sunday’s game.

The fact that full-back Rory O’Carroll was apparently suffering from concussion in the last quarter and substitute forward Eoghan O’Gara had sustained a torn hamstring appear to have been offered, in some quarters, as mitigating circumstances for Dublin’s descent into the realms of cynicism.

But surely these factors must not be allowed to explain away an appalling climax to what was a largely forgettable match.

With 31 other counties simply willing Mayo to get their noses over the line first, the initial sense of outrage over Dublin’s late, late tactics morphed into anger when they took delivery of the Sam Maguire Cup for the second time in two years.

We are all familiar with the ‘win ugly’ mantra but this game surely plumbed new depths in terms of NOT gracing the biggest day in the football calendar with ‘core principles’.

Not surprisingly, two words have been used in most conversations relating to the game and they are ‘black card’.

But while we await its introduction on January 1, we must not assume that it will prove the panacea for all the ills that currently afflict the game.

Irrespective of how the black card mechanism is policed, I think that an irrefutable case has been made for the brandishing of a red card to any player who is deemed to be guilty of committing a serious cynical foul.

While we have to assume that no coaches or managers are actually offering crash courses in cynicism, this particular evil is being routinely practised with impunity, and not just at the highest level.

It is abundantly clear within the Association that the end clearly justifies the means and, this being the case, stealing a march on opponents in the crucial final phase of a game must be obtained by any possible means.

What a pity that a football championship which, to be candid, existed within the imposing shadow of the riveting All-Ireland hurling series for the greater part of the summer, should have climaxed on such a distasteful note.

Of course, Dublin has been en fete this week, the nuances of the team’s last-gasp erection of the barricades conveniently overlooked as la dolce vita reigned.

But it is depressing to hear those tactics actually lauded and then to have listen to Dublin manager Jim Gavin query the competence of referee Joe McQuillan after he had awarded his team 32 frees to Mayo’s 10. I ask you!

Maybe I am wrong, but I could have detected just a hint of arrogance there. But serving the masses — and particularly the many thousands of genuine fans outside the county boundary of Dublin — a dose of hypocrisy is not the best way in which to trigger All Ireland celebrations.

Mayo have been gracious in defeat, acknowledging that their own shortcomings had even more to do with the setback they incurred rather than Dublin’s limited skills on a day in which the image of football was tarnished once more.

But the westerners do not deserve to have their noses rubbed in the dirt. They have returned home a sadder and wiser side, but not necessarily a less capable outfit.

Perhaps they will get the chance to prove this again next year and to ram home the message that their own core principles are of a more enduring variety.

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