Murph’s Sideline Cut: Cavanagh's tackle a result of the game we've created

The spirit of the game is too vague a concept to have expected the Tyrone star to do anything other than commit his infamous foul.

Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh is yellow carded by referee Cormac Reilly.
Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh is yellow carded by referee Cormac Reilly.
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

IN THE FIRST Test of this year’s Ashes series, England’s Stuart Broad got mired in a major controversy when he refused to admit that he had nicked a delivery to a fielder. The umpire missed the touch off his bat, and Broad was given not out.

There was outrage from Australians, and more pertinently, Broad’s fellow Englishmen, because he had not shown ‘the spirit of cricket’ in standing his ground, despite knowing that he should have been given out.

There followed at least a week of people trying to define ‘the spirit of cricket’, as a sort of nebulous set of guidelines for players where they would have to be seen to be upholders of fairness and sportsmanship, and shame on anyone who would be seen to fall below those standards.

The only problem with all that is of course that if ‘the spirit of cricket’ is an actual living, breathing part of the game, why do they have umpires?

Why have an independent adjudicator at all, if the players can be trusted to apply the rules of the game?

The plain fact of the matter is that in cricket, as in all other sports, people don’t play purely for enjoyment, and they don’t play purely for the love of the game.

They may play for those reasons, sure, but they have another motivating factor – to win. And often times the drive to win is what elevates an ordinary athlete into an extraordinary winner.

The discussion begun by Joe Brolly on Saturday night over Sean Cavanagh’s rugby tackle on Conor McManus has obviously garnered a lot of attention, not much of it complimentary to Brolly. And there is no doubt the tackle was terrible. The referee did what he was designated to do by the rule book, Cavanagh had the good grace not to complain about it, and Conor McManus kicked the free over the bar.

YouTube: Pádraig Ó Dubhaigh

Now by the rules of the game, there wasn’t a whole lot else that could have happened there. What Brolly was really raging against was not the cynicism of the foul, but the jaded reaction that he would have seen around Croke Park and in people’s front rooms around the country. Cavanagh did the professional thing in hauling McManus down – and that’s the game we’ve created.

He is to be commended for crying halt, but there are a number of issues surrounding this.

Mayo people got very upset when Joe signaled their cynical fouling out for special attention in the run-up to the All-Ireland final last year, even though not many of them made the argument that they WEREN’T cynically fouling opponents.

The issue was with the unbalanced nature of Brolly’s comments, ie, everyone’s doing it. They had become victims of their own success.

Cavanagh, it can safely be said, fell into the same trap. For the last two weekends he has put on a clinic in modern midfield play, and has picked up two Man of the Match awards. I would wager that if that was Dermot Carlin who had pulled down McManus, we wouldn’t be hearing quite so much about this.

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There is also the not insignificant issue of the rule-book. If the rule-book outlines a recommended punishment for a cynical foul, then that is what the referee must follow. And if the GAA see a problem with the game as it is currently adjudicated, it’s their responsibility to try and change it – which they have, with the introduction of the black card next year.

Everyone’s doing it

If ‘everyone’s doing it’ is the current defense, then everyone will get punished next year. And the implication is that our flair players, like McManus and of course rather ironically Sean Cavanagh, will be given much greater license to play. Here’s hoping.

There’s not a whole lot else that we can do, apart from maybe appeal to Cavanagh to uphold ‘the spirit of gaelic games’… at least as nebulous a concept here as it is in the world of cricket.

Tyrone and Mayo, the betes noire of Joe Brolly, will meet in the All-Ireland semi-final after that extraordinary day yesterday in Croke Park. I expected Mayo to win, but no-one expected that. Galway’s place in the footballing world gets healthier by the week!

At the start of the championship there were a couple of match-ups that I thought were intriguing in different ways, which would make ranking the big guns from 1-6 difficult. I thought for instance that if Mayo met Donegal they’d beat them. I also thought that if the Dubs met Mayo, that Dublin would win. And if the Dubs were to meet a rejuvenated Kerry – would they be able to turn the tide of history and beat Kerry for only the second time since 1977?

Mayo are now left with Tyone in the semi-final, and then the Dubs or Kerry in the final if they get past them. The Dubs are a better team and will cause Mayo more problems but Kerry in an All-Ireland final carries A LOT of baggage. It’s intriguingly poised, but Mayo are everyone’s favourites now.

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