Last Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final between Tyrone and Mayo was always going to come under a lot of scrutiny from all those concerned with Gaelic games in the country.
The main reason is probably all the attention that Sean Cavanagh has received but also the fact that Joe Brolly and the rest of the Sunday Game pundits made such a issue of the way Tyrone play the game.
As a result it was hyped up as the biggest game of the championship to date.
Now before I go any further the one certainty about the game was the best team won. No matter what anyone might say about one decision or another, Mayo were by far the best team and it just came down to one thing in the end, they had the stronger players to come on when they needed them most, strength in depth.
Tyrone can count themselves a bit unlucky; the first three points they conceded were extremely soft frees given by a referee who, if he was a player, would have been brought off before half-time.
I know people might point to Alan Freeman first half goal being disallowed and they would have been right,. On closer viewing of the tackles that went in on Freeman no one fouled him so I don’t know how the match official could have given a free in the first place but apart from that Mayo certainly got more of the decisions than Tyrone got.
Then when Tyrone needed to get the benefit of the doubt at the start of the second half the referee, from a fair distance away, gave Mayo a penalty kick. Two things on the penalty kick, first it was certainly outside the area when he gave the foul and again on closer analysis I am not sure it was a free at all.
I know when you’re watching a game on television you have the advantage of replays but what surprises me most about some of the top referees in today’s game is they never think they’re wrong.
The Tyrone players told the referee to look at the incident on the big screen. However he is not allowed to do so but if he had to sneak a look(that’s if the boys in Croker decided to show it as they are not too fond of showing anything controversial) he would have seen he made the wrong call.
The game changed on that decision and Tyrone were gone. There are people who would argue that regardless of any decision a match official might make that it never changes the result of the game.
In fact I would suggest the opposite, that in tight games the match officials will decide the outcome with calls they deem to be correct.
I am not going to blame Maurice Deegan for putting Tyrone out of the championship as any referee that has to officiate in any of the high profile games where everything is scrutinised to the last is always on a loser.
Regardless how well he does he will not get it all right. However you would expect that he would have been better equipped in making the calls he did.
The first three frees I mentioned at the start of the piece would not be given at a club match but I would suggest that the media attention that this game received and the bad publicity that Tyrone got in the lead up to the game might just have played on Mr. Deegan’s mind and he wanted to lay down his authority early on.
In doing so he made a number of calls he might not usually do as he is one of the best around at the minute along with Joe Mc Quillian of Cavan, but this was not his finest and there could be suggestions that maybe, just maybe, there is a bias against Ulster teams who do not play the game in the manner that the so-called experts believe it should be played.
Then we have the Sunday Game v the Tyrone players saga. Since the Tyrone management and players have refused to give any interviews to the national broadcaster in support of their manager Mickey Harte.
I don’t blame the players for that; you support everyone in the group from the manager to the kit man, that’s how a squad works and that’s how you get the best out of everyone.
But anyone that watched the game on RTE would have noticed that while there was some discussion about some of the referee’s decisions it was not over critical and there was little sympathy for Tyrone.
I would also suggest that the praise for Mayo was a bit over the top because the Tyrone team of old would have had that game over at half-time. Mayo’s first half performance was poor and they will have to improve on that front.
Tyrone can count themselves unlucky to have lost both Peter Harte and Stephen O’Neill in the first half as they did not have the strength in depth as maybe the likes of Mayo and Dublin have.
Mayo showed something that may have been missing in the past; when the game was not going their way they didn’t panic; they didn’t veer away from their game plan and what they do best.
They showed a great belief in in themselves despite many things going wrong in that opening half and came out on top in the end. If they can put together the first half performance they had against Donegal and last Sunday’s final thirty five minutes they will be hard to beat.
Who knows this might just be the year that they can bury that curse for once and for all.