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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019

'Whenever it gets deeper down into family history, girlfriends and wives, it gets a bit malicious.'

Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh on the issue of sledging in the GAA.

Sean Cavanagh in action for Tyrone against Donegal on Sunday.
Sean Cavanagh in action for Tyrone against Donegal on Sunday.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP started with a bang on Sunday with a dramatic and heated affair between Donegal and Tyrone.

There was plenty talking points after a physical encounter in Ballybofey.

We caught up yesterday with Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh and the five-time Allstar winner particularly addressed the issue of sledging which surfaced on Sunday.


Do you feel you were singled out and targeted on Sunday?

“Well it’s hard to know. I haven’t watched the game back. But certainly there were a number of incidents, things that you would like to see dealt with more sternly.

But until referees get help it’s not going to change. Until sideline officials and umpires start being really brave, and make calls to change things, it’s not going to change.

“Look, the referee can only keep focusing on the play. On both sides, players knew that they could get away with things. Both ourselves and Donegal are guilty of it.”

What happened at half-time?

“Well, there were a few verbals, and I was involved in a bit of that. Then as I turned around there was a flash point in front of the tunnel, by then I was a fair bit back.

“There was a lot of mouthing, pushing. Sometimes players can normally control each other, but when you see people not normally involved in the game, then the whole thing kicks off.

“I think GAA as a unit will have to think about how things are organised then. In Croke Park, there’s certain ways at which you leave the field, in Tyrone there are different sides and all that.”

Rory Gallagher A scuffle erupts between the Donegal and Tyrone players at half-time on Sunday. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Was the sledging particularly worse yesterday?

“There’s no doubting that you’re going to get that, the higher the level you go and the more local rivalries you get. Cavan play Monaghan this weekend and I’ve no doubt it’ll be rife there as well.

“As a player I got used to it over the years. Yesterday with the intensity of the game and the hype, everyone was probably a bit on the edge. Players probably did overstep the mark to a certain extent.”

How do you police it or is it impossible?

It’s impossible. I can look that way and call you a name and say something about your family and your child and no one will ever know.

“I’m sure Michael Murphy got chatted to yesterday when he was hitting free kicks, I got chatted to whenever I was hitting free kicks. I think they can probably be more stringent on that.

“I think the sideline officials and umpires can help the referees with the off the ball dragging and pushing probably a bit more.”

Michael Murphy and Ronan McNabb Donegal's Michael Murphy and Tyrone's Ronan McNabb Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

How personal does it get?

“Look at times, you just have to be thick skinned. At times it can be quite personal. You just have to accept (it).”

Are they researching family history?

“Yeah at times, yeah. It can be very, very personal. I know yesterday there was certain players, youse will probably know that plays for us that have been through tough times, and they were getting a fair bit of personal abuse.

“Look, it’s disappointing to see and it’s not just all one side. It’s both sides. I don’t know how you can stop somebody whispering in somebody’s ear.

Referees and officials will obviously try and clamp down on it but I’m not sure how they can do that. It actually doesn’t really annoy me. I think it’s tougher for guys that haven’t really had that before.

“It certainly wouldn’t be a good advertisement for younger players coming into the game and if they were thinking of whether they wanted to go play soccer or whether they wanted to go play rugby.”

Sean Cavanagh with his daughter Eva and his childhood hero Mattie McGleenan at the launch of Super Valu's 'Kits for Kids' initiative.

Fear that a young player may decide enough is enough?

“People will take that differently. I am accustomed myself not to take that personally and sort of laughed it off through the years.

“There is so much now on mental health of players and there are players in dark places. You would hope that it doesn’t come to the stage that some player tries to do something silly or something like that, if he has been abused or has had a bad game and people have really got on his case.

You can only try and encourage the players to respect one another. At the end of the day we all have to look at each other when we are walking off the pitch.

“We normally shake each other’s hands and at times you don’t feel like shaking that person’s hand that has been abusing you for 70 minutes.”

Hugh McFadden, Neil McGee and Ryan McHugh tackle Cathal McShane Donegal and Tyrone players battling for possession. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Ever meet them at functions and that feeling lingers?

“I would be fortunate in that I would always try and shake their hands, no matter how gut-wrenching it is going through that 70 minutes.

“I could probably sit down with a pen – I’m not going to but I could – and write down a list of 30 or 40 players over the last number of years that wouldn’t have endeared themselves to me.

“I could be in other players’ list as well. I am no angel, Michael Murphy is no angel. An awful lot of players are at fault but days like yesterday, it does get out of control a wee bit.”

Odhran Mac Niallais and Ronan McNamee Donegal's Odhran MacNiallais and Tyrone's Ronan McNamee Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Hard to imagine another sport where that kind of thing goes on?

“You watch a bit of NBA and basketball and there will be a bit of thrash-talking. But whenever it gets deeper down into family history, girlfriends and wives, it gets a bit malicious at that stage.

“That’s down to the individual involved, I would hope that’s not being coached or encourage from management teams.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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