Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Thursday 26 July 2012
On a train from Killarney to Dublin last Saturday evening, a group of Tyrone fans stood at the bar and tried to drown their sorrows only to find they're excellent swimmers.
Those from Kerry steered clear of it though, instead basking in the sober reality of what they'd just achieved. But they had one gripe about what had happened during the day's qualifier. "We were lucky that everyone came through without injuries," one man said. "They were up to their same old tricks. They were filthy."
Of course fans are always going to be biased, but this was a particularly odd take on the game. Because, while populism suggests the biggest threat and most damning indictment of modern football is the massed defence, the actual problem with the game had just been demonstrated by Kerry across 30 second-half minutes riddled with systematic and cynical fouls.
We aren't saying that others teams don't do it too. Cork and Donegal in particular are no angels and there's a case to be made for the fact that the better and more clever you are at fouling, the further you will go. But Kerry gave the worst example of a tactic and a ploy that is ruining the game during that second half with Tyrone. Consider the following list of examples from the 40th minute onwards and consider what Tyrone had to endure.
On 40 minutes, after Declan O'Sullivan kicked his third point in a fantastic attacking display, a short kickout was taken to Conor Gormley but Kieran Donaghy's attempt at a tackle was awkward, and Paul Galvin followed it up by hauling the centre-back to the ground and then hung onto him.
On 45 minutes, Donaghy's goal stretched the lead to five and in a commanding position, Kerry clearly decided to slow the game still further. From the resulting kickout, Declan O'Sullivan lazily wrapped his arms around Joe McMahon and then stayed in front of him for the free.
On 48 minutes, after James O'Donoghue pointed and Darran O'Sullivan came on, the new arrival pulled Colm Cavanagh down with another tackle that was lazy from another quick kickout. It was obvious O'Sullivan had no intention of turning over the ball and once the free was awarded, he again obstructed the kicker.
On 52 minutes, following a turnover, Joe McMahon was taken down by Darran O'Sullivan who stood in front of him for a full 11 seconds as he tried to take the free. Finally, McMahon did get to play a short pass to Mark Donnelly but Galvin, Anthony Maher and Shane Enright combined to bundle him over well outside the 45 and well outside shooting distance. From that free, as Tyrone looked for the open man in scoring range, Declan O'Sullivan was hanging out of Stephen O'Neill but the incident went unpunished.
On 54 minutes, Ryan McMenamin turned over a ball in defence and looked to break only to have his legs clipped by Colm Cooper while Donaghy was in quickly to slow play further and laughed in the faces of opposition player as he succeeded.
On 56 minutes, Brian McGuigan finally had enough. From a free out of defence he was taken down high and cynically by Declan O'Sullivan. The Kerry player complained to the referee about his arm, was hit from behind, went down easily and a minute and a red card later he was up laughing at Owen Mulligan. It was stupid from McGuigan and deserving of a red but Tyrone had finally been fouled to breaking point.
On 59 minutes, Enright dragged down Donnelly after a quick free for a square ball. In the next phase of play Maher did the same to Cavanagh. In the next phase of play Aidan O'Mahony did the same to Mulligan. There were no bookings and the ball was still short of the 45. Moments later as Stephen O'Neill went to take a lineball, the ball was kicked away by a Kerry substitute. Nothing happened but when Ryan McMenamin did the same moments later, the ball was moved forward.
On 63 minutes, there was more of the same after Cooper's point as, from a short kickout, Maher fouled, Galvin took off with the ball which led to him being shoved to the ground by Gormley.
On 68 minutes, after Kieran O'Leary's wide, Cavanagh from a short kickout was taken down, and Patrick Curtin's lunge was far more dangerous than that of McGuigan, although the player hit didn't stay down on this occasion.
It's a long and damning list yet doesn't make headlines like more nasty incidents such as Gormley stuffing the ball into the gut of Tomás Ó Sé after the goal or Joe McMahon going for Galvin right at the end. But ask yourself this, which is more disruptive to the actual game? And besides, the number one cause of violent acts on a football pitch is frustration and Tyrone had plenty of reasons to get frustrated given how they were being handled by the opposition and referee David Coldrick.
Kerry were exceptional for long spells, no one is denying that, indeed their tackling when the opposition were within scoring range was exemplary. It was hard and fair and intense and there was never the lazy option of giving away a kickable free. But out of that scoring zone they clearly had a plan and by breaking up the play through systematic fouling and by stalling the free taker it allowed them to kill momentum and get players back and set a defensive formation which was highly effective.
And there was no deterrent. Each of those fouls listed above was worthy of a yellow card and forget talk of common sense refereeing meaning you can't send off three or four players when the fouls aren't violent. The only way to stop what was happening was to punish professional fouling in the correct way and one sending off may have stopped what was happening and changed the face of the game. But when that didn't happen Kerry were happy to continue on. And there's the problem for football, the lack of team fouls which could result in a punishment on the scoreboard or in terms of numbers on the pitch through a sin bin.
A few weeks back after watching his own Donegal, Martin McHugh suggested on The Sunday Game that rules needed to be changed to stop teams defending in numbers. It is odd as why should you change the rules for something as subjective as entertaining football? But as the Football Review Committee gets ready to look at the way the game is played, the worry is they'll listen to those sorts of comments and address those issues, all the while ignoring the real issue here. But if they look back at the second half in Killarney they'll see exactly what they have to do when it comes to tinkering with the game.
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