‘I have to say on behalf of Tiernan McCann… if he had the chance again he would have responded differently to what happened to him and we all accept that’. At that point, Mickey Harte should have stopped talking. He didn’t.
‘I just want to say that he wasn’t entirely to blame for all of this. If the player who raised his hand had chosen to do something differently, then the outcome would have been different as well.’
Oh dear. Tyrone can play football, but they ain’t great at public relations. Nobody likes them, and they don’t care. But maybe they should.
The Red Hand county have been here before. Time and time again, they provide the same defence. ‘Everybody else is at it.’ True, admittedly. Tiernan McCann isn’t the first man to drop like the barrel of bricks from The Dubliner’s ‘Why Paddy’s Not at Work Today’ without valid reason for doing so.
Ask Donncha O’Connor what the main factor was in his sending off during Cork’s 2008 semi-final with Kerry, and he’ll cite the theatrics of Aidan O’Mahony. In terms of time wasting and destruction of momentum, Tyrone are far from the sole transgressors. Mayo were overtly cynical in closing out their 2012 semi-final with Dublin. Twelve months later, Dublin administered more rugby tackles in the final ten minutes of the All-Ireland final than what we’ll see at next month’s World Cup. Many more examples are stored away in the annals of history, freely accessible to those who seek them.
Clearly then, there’s truth in what Tyrone say. How relevant is it in their quest for absolution? Not relevant at all, actually. In fact, Mickey Harte’s ridiculous defence of McCann is only likely to compound their image problem, a problem that matters far more than they seem to realise.
Tyrone might well be suffering at the hands of media bias. They were continuously branded as a dull footballing outfit throughout the noughties, largely based on their aesthetically awkward 2003 win. Their style of football on the way to victories in 2005 and 2008 was of a far more exhilarating variety, but reputations are stubborn things. Kerry produced the most turgid winning performance of recent years in grounding out last year’s All-Ireland final, but maintained a status as purveyors of sublime football, and only sublime football. Hypocrisy can be staggering.
But media prejudice or not, Tyrone have been spotted near more crime scenes over the last twelve years than most counties have in their entire history. The 2003 semi-final, the battle of Omagh, the Derrytresk saga and the Cavanagh pull-down all rank highly in a list of the most divisive episodes of the last fifteen years. More recently, the Red Hand County has been equally influential in the production of negative headlines. Tyrone’s Under-21 manager was refused entry to the Tipperary dressing room following the teams’ All-Ireland final earlier this year.
Their Ulster senior championship game with Donegal was noted for its cynicism, while two of their minor team were accused, whether rightly or wrongly, of the most heinous vulgarity. Throw the McCann incident into the basket, and 2015 has been another unmitigated disaster for Tyrone’s PR wing. Tyrone may not have been entirely to blame in many of the aforementioned incidents, if any, but their status as the common denominator might not sit well with many, including those possessing meaningful power.
They don’t help their situation. Philip Jordan has labelled calls for Tiernan McCann to apologise as ‘ridiculous’. Perhaps he’s right, but if McCann was to handle the media in a mature way in response to his actions, whether sincere in his words or otherwise, it could be of benefit to both himself and his county as they step up their search for Sam. That seems unlikely to happen. Mickey Harte could have easily, and should have, left his response to the McCann situation at the sentence quoted at this article’s outset. What an infinitely more pleasant aftertaste that would have left for those who matter. To attribute equal blame to Darren Hughes, guilty on that occasion of nothing more than naivety, is a move likely to incite the angry mob. His point claiming that the transgression of Paul Finlay was more serious is neither untrue, uninteresting nor irrelevant. But it’s unlikely to change public perception of his charges, and attempts to undermine the significance of McCann’s cowardly action will do little to alter widely held views, at least not in a positive sense.
Does it matter what people think of them? Well, actually, it might. Much attention was drawn to Mayo’s cynicism in the 2012 semi-final, and they could hardly catch a break from Maurice Deegan three weeks later. Tyrone themselves challenged Mayo for long stretches in their 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, but had to play against sixteen men in the aftermath of their controversial quarter-final against Monaghan. They are not without chance against Kerry in a fortnight’s time, but they might need every advantage they can get. To lose the benefit of the referee’s doubt could prove crucial.
Tyrone are a fine footballing county. Their performance against Monaghan was consistently strong, and at times excellent. But, whether rightly or wrongly, their reputation precedes their every move. What we can say more definitely is that they could, and should, be doing a lot better in terms of kneading that perception. It is of far more importance than they seem to realise.