22 June 2006 Edition
The Matt Treacy Column
Tyrone relieved to have escaped
The best guide to answering the hoary old question - prompted again by Tyrone/Louth last Saturday - as to which team is happiest with a draw, is to look at the reactions of the teams and supporters to the final whistle. On that basis there could be little doubt that Tyrone were relieved to have escaped. And while both sets of supporters rose to both teams at the end of what had been an enthralling contest, the faces of the Louth supporters were generally more sombre as we made our way back down the town.
While they were understandably proud of the display that Louth had put up, especially following the two Mugsy goals that would have killed off most teams, they also realised that they had 'left it behind'. Not in the sense that they have lost any hope of beating Tyrone, because I don't think they have, but that they could have won the match. Especially in the first period of extra time when they tore into the much vaunted red hand defence and might indeed have put it beyond all doubt had Mark Stansfield not blazed an excellent goal chance wide.
Had Tyrone turned around five points down it is difficult to see how they might have retrieved the situation. As it was Louth seemed to suffer a minor crisis of confidence in the last ten minutes, or perhaps it was simply that their mighty efforts were beginning to exact a heavy toll on the legs. Whatever the case, Sean Cavanagh won enough ball at midfield to place the Louth backline, which was sometimes 12 or 13 strong, under huge pressure. Eventually that yielded results and it was Mulligan who levelled matters with two late frees.
It was a great game to watch as a neutral even if some of the Tyrone people around us were unhappy with the quality of the football. A sentiment that in fairness to them they were expressing even at half time when Tyrone looked as if they were going to win comfortably. As for myself, I get more enjoyment out of watching an honestly fought close hard game than observing a team of 'stylists' winning by 20 points. Leave the style to the hurlers!
But this was far better than say the Derry Tyrone match of a few weeks back. That had been genuinely awful and negative and would appear to have brought the victors little benefit judging from their facile collapse against Donegal. Tyrone and Louth was certainly hard hitting but there was nothing nasty in it and both teams basically went at it bald faced. Stood toe to toe, as Mickey Harte said.
Indeed, it has to be said in defence of this Tyrone side that they generally favour a fair field and no quarter. Tough but honest, apart from the occasional irritating tendency to milk injuries and fouls. That honesty and openness has been the basis for their greatest triumphs but it also leaves them vulnerable especially now as the panel begins to wear the stresses and strains of injury and time on its sleeve.
It now looks certain that Stephen O'Neill's hamstring will keep him out of the replay in Omagh on Saturday. That combined with the continued absence of McGuigan, Hughes, probably Dooher again, and Cavlan will place huge further strains on the Tyrone men.
Louth appear to have come out of Navan with no new injury concerns to add to the absence of Aaron Hoey. As the two teams readied themselves on the pitch for the start of extra time last Saturday, Louth looked the less tired and the more focused. If they can hold onto that during the week and if they perform as well as they did last weekend then Tyrone are going to be fighting for their lives as All Ireland champions all the way. No better men. Be there if you can.
Afterwards in the pub the few Louth people still around (I think there's a long-standing boycott of the Meath economy that dates back to a disputed Junior match in the late '30s) were beginning to cheer up. The chap I met in the toilet (not by appointment you understand) reckoned that they would win the replay and at least get to the All Ireland final. I agreed that this was entirely possible. You don't argue with emotionally charged men in public toilets.
The other weekend matches were for the most part non events. The Sheepstealers flattered to deceive briefly before collapsing pretty ignomiously against Galway in Hyde Park. Others to surrender tamely enough included Derry - where Paddy Campbell's attempted seduction of Enda Muldoon led to the latter's dismissal when he defended his honour, and Down.
But not even the Roscommon hurlers, who at least were spared having their 61 point defeat by Antrim broadcast on national television, could have been more embarrassed than the Limerick hurlers. I believe that I may have hinted at Limerick as a possible bet to do things this year. I sincerely apologise for that advice as Joe McKenna's former charges (Joe having resigned as soon as the final whistle blew) put up about as much fight against Clare in Ennis as a stuffed trout.
In the players' mitigation they were burdened with a 'tactical' formation that saw many of them playing in unaccustomed positions. Brian Geary, moved from centre-half back to centre forward, was taken off before half time and sulked alone in an empty dugout. Others did their sulking on the field.
Limerick's collapse, combined with Galway's hammering of Laois and Waterford's easy enough dismissal of Westmeath, casts further doubt on the structure of the hurling championship. Is it all just a Byzantine and torturous means of prolonging what we all know is going to happen anyway? That appears also to be the conclusion of the Hurling Development Committee who have promised changes to the format.
Galway manager Conor Hayes put it eloquently. "Hurling is like an old country house where the front door has been maintained. It looks grand from the road but when you go inside you find that the place is falling down."