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Are Mayo more sinned against than sinners?

Sport

ROUGH AND TUMBLE Mayo and Galway players tussle during the recent National League clash in Salthill. Pic: Ray Ryan

Incidents in recent games begs the question: are Mayo more sinned against than sinners?  

Feature
Edwin McGreal

THE reaction to Ronan Shanahan’s tackle on Evan Regan that left the Ballina man with a fracture of his cheekbone was ferocious.  
Many Mayo fans felt it should have been a straight red card and Lee Keegan poured fuel on the fire when he called it ‘a dirty tackle’ at a press event two days afterwards.  
In real time, Regan had superbly slipped inside one Kerry defender and was racing through on goal.
Shanahan was sprinting back to cover off the goal chance. Both were moving at speed when Regan, like any elusive forward, tried to evade the tackle coming from Shanahan.  He went low to skip outside the cover but Shanahan caught him with severe consequences for the Ballina man.  
We felt it was a yellow card, which is what Shanahan received.  
On a wider level, while Shanahan certainly did not plan to do the damage he did, he was clearly racing back to stop Regan by fair or foul methods.  
People can get on their high horse about this all they like, but it’s an inevitable part of Gaelic football. Teams do what they can to prevent goals. And, let’s be honest, there would likely be praise of a Mayo defender in the same situation.  
In fact, it must be said that in recent years too many teams have cut through the heart of Mayo’s defence to strike goals.  That’s not to say that we’re calling Mayo to be dirty — because we don’t think Shanahan’s tackle was dirty — but it was ruthless, a quality Mayo do not always employ themselves when it comes to their defending.
Many Mayo fans have developed an unfortunate habit of becoming furious at everything, but valid criticisms often blur into whinging when it becomes so constant.  
However, there is some merit to some complaints raised by Mayo ‘loyalists’ in recent weeks that the facts help to illuminate. And that is that Mayo are certainly getting plenty of it physically from opponents.
Shanahan’s tackle in isolation was not the worst, but there’s no doubt Kerry ‘brought it’ physically on the night.  We pointed out in last week’s Mayo News that in the last five competitive games (league and championship), Mayo’s opponents have never finished with a full compliment of players.  
Look across those five games and you will see a pattern. Nine opposition players sent off to just three Mayo players.  Coincidence? We’re not so sure.  
The red cards only tell part of the story.  
In three league games this year Mayo have picked up a total of 12 yellow cards (including the double yellow for Diarmuid O’Connor against Galway). The combined total for the opposition is twice that, 24, including four double yellows.  Teams have evidence as well that having a man less against Mayo need not be a fatal handicap in a game.
Mayo have struggled to break down teams from this position in 2018.  So what we’re seeing is teams wiring into Mayo because they feel this is the best way to get a result. And it’s working.   
So how do Mayo react?  
How to deal with such opposition tactics is a tricky balance for Mayo. They do not want players sent off like Cillian O’Connor was in Salthill. His frustrations might have been understandable, but he can have few complaints about the red.  In recent times he has been playing on the edge and it’s not a far journey to the other side. He may need to reevaluate his abrasive style.  But that’s easier said than done.
O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea are the two Mayo players who receive most attention from opponents. When O’Connor struck two wides in the second half, the umpires had not even spread his arms before Galway players were in his face, goading him.  
And Mayo are not without sin here either — Shane Nally did likewise when Seán O’Shea missed a penalty in the Kerry game. Such behaviour is a stain on the game, and while some players may think it gives them an edge, they might think again if such carry-on was dealt with adequately by referees.  Verbal abuse of an opponent is a listed black card offence but, frustratingly, referees refuse to use the sanction.  

Taking it but not giving it
AIDAN O’Shea’s ability to withstand such treatment is remarkable. He clearly has the patience of Job.
On countless occasions in Pearse Stadium we saw Declan Kyne pulling and dragging him off the ball. It is something that appears to be tolerated more on O’Shea than most other players.  
In last year’s championship O’Shea was awarded 38 frees. That does not include the many more times when he received the benefit of the advantage rule nor, some would argue, the occasions when he did not win a free many felt he should have been. He manages to dust himself down time and again and get on with it.  
We recall a league game for his club Breaffy against Moy Davitts in the spring of 2009. Just out of minor, O’Shea was a huge prospect and Moy Davitts knew it. They let him know it was senior football and he got plenty of grief.  
Before half-time the canopy went and he struck out. Referee Vincent Neary flashed a straight red card.  
It was a salutory lesson for O’Shea. It was the last time he was sent off for such a reaction. Since then he has received a total of four red cards, two for club and two for county.  The two at club level (one straight red, one double yellow) were overturned after the viewing of video evidence in appeals.  At county level he was sent off for a double yellow late in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final win over Donegal and his only straight red was against Down in the league earlier that year.  A linesman adjudged him to have elbowed Danny Hughes as they raced for possession. O’Shea was furious at the time and his manager James Horan was critical of the decision. Long story short, you have to go back almost a decade to when O’Shea was last sent off for reacting to attention.   
No doubt he is tested time and again these days though.  
The reality is that the attention he, Cillian O’Connor et al receive is likely to continue. Mayo will have to decide how they deal with such situations. It’s a tricky balance between standing up for your team-mates and getting dragged into a scrap when you do not need to.  
But it was telling when it kicked off in Galway that Cillian O’Connor was the second Mayo man in and the third was selector Tony McEntee, never known for his pace as a player.  He is facing a two-month sanction, somewhat harsh but a mentor going into such a row rarely calms things down.
But he might wonder where the rest of O’Shea and O’Connor’s team-mates were.
Teams are going after Mayo physically now. The problem with the rules of Gaelic football is that it is not easy to just rise above it.
For years, Mayo teams were derided for being ‘too nice’ when push came to shove in big games.
But it now seems that refusing to take a step back over the last six or seven years has led to a change in how this group of Mayo players are perceived.  
Opposition teams have upped the ante again recently, pushing Mayo’s buttons.
Their reaction will be telling.

Did you know?
In the last five games that Mayo have played, nine opposition players have been sent off with three Mayo players seeing red.

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