Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: A toothpick to save penalties

AFTER a lot of rumours had done the round this week that the players had ousted Mickey Harte, and that Enda Muldoon was taking over until the end of the season under the discreet supervision of Rory Gallagher, the Gaelic Life’s Niall McCoy brought the gossip to an end. Niall tweeted, “Mickey Harte remains Derry manager and will be in charge for the Westmeath game. Rumour mill out of control but nothing in it.” To which Owen Mulligan responded, “Thank God for that.”

We are a laughing stock now. When the Downfall video is released, you know it’s all over. Hitler is in his bunker, enraged, demanding answers for Derry’s collapse. When Hitler’s lieutenant says, “To be fair, mein Fuhrer, Harte won three All-Irelands with Tyrone in the noughties,” Adolf roars: “Ten Hag would have three All-Irelands with that Tyrone team,” before smashing the table with his fist.

After the Armagh humiliation, just as he had done after the two previous humiliations, Harte blamed the players. He told the press he didn’t know what was wrong with them. He was “at a loss” as to what was going so badly wrong. “It’s very hard to explain what is happening,” he said. And I thought being able to explain what is happening is the entire point of management.

It is depressing and enraging listening to him waffling. “We can only look at it and see what our eyes are telling us, that we’re getting bad beatings,” he said, putting me in mind of Brick Tamlin in Anchorman. “It doesn’t make sense, unless there is a mental problem.” It is hard to know which is worse: A manager who has no idea what the problem is. Or a manager who blames the players.

Nothing is ever his fault. No. It is our players who are to blame: The two in-a-row Ulster champions who almost beat Kerry in last year’s semi-final. A team that hadn’t had a sending off in the previous four years. A team that has been disciplined and together and structured and ferocious as they rose from Division Four to become genuine All-Ireland contenders. No, the fact that within five months of Harte’s arrival we are an indisciplined, bad tempered, disillusioned, injury prone, disorganised mess conceding more goals than San Marino has absolutely nothing to do with the manager.

Our serial humiliations in this championship are the players’ fault and a mystery to management. They have nothing to do with our kamikaze ‘keeper/midfielder tactic. They have nothing to do with our entire team pushing up high into the opposition half, which resembles Liverpool or Manchester City’s high offside trap. Note to Mickey: There is no offside in Gaelic football. As a result of this strategy, we have conceded four disastrous/comical goals to a disbelieving Donegal in the first round, two to Galway in the second (they did not take full advantage of the gift being offered), and three to Armagh on Sunday (it could and should have been five).

Good, totally committed Derry men have been reduced to a panic stricken mess. Our ‘keeper Odhrán Lynch has been subjected to one public embarrassment after another, falling forwards and backwards into the net, running helplessly back towards his own goal, pirouetting then falling to the ground as the opposing supporters giggle. He has been left to his mortification, the equivalent of John Kiely giving his goalie a toothpick to save the penalties.

Our defenders and midfielders have been reduced to running back towards their own goals in dread, praying it isn’t going to end with another morale-killing goal, opposing forwards wheeling away gleefully, scarcely believing their luck. We have become a confidence-booster for teams in need of a confidence boost. When Brendan Rogers fell into the net for Armagh’s second goal on Sunday, he must have wished he was in Croke Park with the hurlers.

Nor is the chronic indiscipline Mickey’s fault. After Gareth McKinless was sent off for an outrageous stamp on Damien Comer’s Achilles’, Mickey smiled sarcastically and said that Comer’s reaction to the incident was “theatrical.” I was so appalled by this that I contacted Padraic Joyce that night to apologise as a Derryman for what had been done and to pass on my best wishes to his gallant forward.

On Sunday, another sending off. This time it was Ciaran McFaul, who as Lee Keegan rightly said on Sunday night, had behaved badly from the moment he was brought on. This time, Mickey painted Ciaran as the victim, saying he had been provoked from the moment he had been introduced.

In the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final, reigning champions Donegal were destroyed by Mayo, losing by 16 points. Near the end, Eamon McGee stamped on Enda Varley and got a straight red card. Years later, Eamon recalled the incident.

“Jimmy (McGuinness) could have let it lie as the season was over and it had no impact on the result. But he tore shreds off me in the changing room for letting the team, the county and myself down. I was left under no illusions that any future loss of discipline was unacceptable.”

When Mickey abandoned Louth on the eve of the season, he told the Louth chairman that he “wanted to win another All-Ireland” before he retired and that Derry were his best hope. We certainly were, until Mickey arrived. It is not the players, or mysterious unknown factors, or an “emotional problem” that is to blame for our disintegration.

The truth is that Mickey Harte is the rot at the heart of our decay.

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