Photo: Irish Independent
Another day, another article in the Dublin-centric “national” media quoting a former Dublin player alleging that a current Dublin player, Diarmuid Connolly, was targeted unfairly by one of our players. Yes, folks, it’s the latest round in the smear-Lee-Keegan campaign and you can read it in the Irish Independent here.
Clarke’s critique is wrapped in honeyed words – describing our man as a “great footballer” – but the import of what he has to say is fairly transparent. One player – our one – is doing all the sinning and the other one – their one – is being sinned against. How simple life can be at times, eh?
Today’s piece is just the latest example in what is now a a fairly well-established smear campaign. Ciaran Whelan was first out of the blocks on The Sunday Game the night of the drawn match calling for the “instigators” of such incidents to be dealt with.
Funny, I don’t recall him being so adamant for this to happen when Connolly dragged down Ryan McHugh in the quarters, when the Donegal man was trying to get by the Dublin player to join an attack. Connolly pulled him to the ground – unprovoked, m’lud – and was damn lucky only to see yellow for what was as clearcut a black card offence as you’ll ever see.
Alan Brogan has put Lee in the first paragraph of his last two columns for the Herald (a Dub paper for Dubs, I know, but one that still masquerades as a national organ), saying that “Lee is getting away with more than he should be” in one and “at times he crosses that mark” (of what’s legal) in the other. In that second piece he says that he saw Lee drag Connolly to the ground twice but he doesn’t say whether or not he saw one of Connolly’s many strikes on our man during the jersey-gate coming together.
Pillar Caffrey was on the radio on Sunday adding further fuel to this particular fire and, of course, Brolly, the Court Jester himself – always the big boy’s toady and so willing to join in the Dublin campaign with relish – was up to his old tricks in the Sindo. He observed his amazement at “how many of Lee’s opponents lose their jersey, then get yellow-carded for wrestling with him.” I can’t recall a single other opponent whom Lee marked having his jersey ripped but, hey, who care about the facts?
Let’s be honest in this debate. Lee is one tough lad and, like every other elite Gaelic footballer, is well able to do what needs to be done in a game, not all of it strictly within the rules. But is he in any way unique in this? Of course he isn’t and targeting him in the way that the Dublin camp has done strikes of rank hypocrisy.
This is all the more so given who the counter-party is to this particular tango. Unlike Connolly, Lee doesn’t have any track record of violent behaviour. It’s simply untrue to claim that Lee is forever involved in personal tangles like this but it’s beyond dispute that trouble is a constant companion of the Dublin forward, as his poor disciplinary record shows.
In a wider context, of course, the Keegan/Connolly duel is one that should really be lauded – two exceptionally talented players, going at it hammer-and-tongs on the biggest stage of all – but, sadly, the win-at-all-costs approach from the Dublin dirty tricks department has now poisoned that particular well.
Photo: Evening Herald
You can see why they’re doing it, of course – Brolly waged a one-man campaign against us in the days leading up to the 2012 All-Ireland final, branding us the most cynical team ever to play the game (or words to that effect), and this had a clear impact on how Maurice Deegan reffed the match. If Deegan can be got at once, then it makes sense from their point of view to attempt the same trick again and the Dublin-based media are obviously happy to let this tune be sung from the rooftops.
In another sense, though, all this noise should be music to our ears. They’re rattled, that much is now transparently obvious, and they’re grasping for any advantage they can get ahead of the rematch. Odd behaviour for a team that comes into every championship campaign weighed down with all the advantages they have, odder still for defending champions and a side on a 27-match unbeaten run. Whatever it takes to continue winning, I guess. This is what winning at all costs looks like.
It’s easy, of course, to conclude that none of the stuff being written now will be of relevance come Saturday. But then I thought that Brolly’s ludicrous libelling of us back in 2012 would have no impact either. Then the McGees went to town with impunity on Cillian O’Connor in that final where, at the other end of the field, Lee was in the book after ten minutes.
This stuff does matter – otherwise why would they be expending all this energy in making sure the message is getting out there? We’re getting perilously close to Saturday, I know, but there’s still time for our side to redress the balance, though with the national media largely batting for the opposition right now, it’s not entirely clear how best to do this.
Whatever the response is, it needs to happen soon and it needs to be forceful. As things stand, we’re leaving the field clear for the other side to say what they want unchallenged. We’re doing our lads a disservice by allowing this to continue unchecked.