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Adam Moynihan: Fans need to hear the players speak

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James O'Donoghue speaks to Colm Parkinson after the 2014 All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Galway. Pic: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile.

The question asked of Kyle Sinckler was fairly standard. The Bristol prop had just picked up the Man of the Match award for his role in the Bears’ victory over Bath in the English Premiership and the interviewer summed up his performance and the result as a “pretty decent afternoon, right?”

The England international laughed. But as he began to reply, his voice trembled. He struggled to find the right words. “It has been an emotional week,” he offered, before thanking his teammates and loved ones for their support.

This was on Saturday last. Earlier in the week, Sinckler had been omitted from the Lions squad ahead of their upcoming tour of South Africa. When the interviewer asked how he felt about it, the 28-year-old became visibly upset. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m quite emotional right now. It has been tough. It means so much to me.”

By this point the Englishman was fighting back the tears. Over the course of the next two minutes, he shared what he was experiencing and explained how he used the anger inside him to fuel his performance on the pitch. It was hard not to be moved by the frankness and sincerity of Sinckler’s words. Here stood a man who has given his life to his chosen sport (as all top sportspeople do), laying bare on live national television exactly how heartbreaking it is when you fail to achieve your goals.

Even if you knew nothing of Sinckler before watching the clip, you felt like a friend of his after.

The video prompted Kerry GAA legend Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston to draw comparisons with the GAA.

https://twitter.com/EoinListon/status/1391383665746317313?s=20

Paul Brennan of The Kerryman and Tim Moynihan of Radio Kerry agreed and, responding to the latter, Liston added that: “Fans need to know more about their players to fully connect with their team”.

As a journalist who has been covering the Kerry team for a couple of years, I’d have to agree with Bomber’s assessment. First of all, trying to get a Kerry player on the record during the season is not easy. In fairness, all the players I have approached in the past have been absolutely sound and very polite about it, and some have kindly agreed to take part in whatever it is I was doing, but it’s pretty obvious that they have been discouraged from engaging with the media. This approach seems to be deployed across the board as far as intercounty teams are concerned. In recent times, it has even been the case with certain club sides.

And when players do engage, for example in pre-and-post-match press conferences or TV interviews, you rarely get the impression that they’re being 100% forthright with their views.

Why is this the case? Well, a lot of teams seem to adopt a “bunker” mentality (or, in some instances, have a “bunker” mentality imposed upon them). This “us versus them” mindset, aimed at cultivating team unity, is based upon the idea that no one outside the camp can be trusted. The media, understandably, are considered to be firmly outside the camp.

Some managers also fear that their players will say the wrong thing, in turn drawing unwanted scrutiny on the individuals themselves as well as on the team. A stray comment can provide ammunition to the opposition and, in a game of inches, removing the possibility of that comment ever being uttered is seen as a desirable option.

The impression I get, both from playing in and working in GAA circles, is that some managers feel as though this approach to the media is ultra-professional. The irony, of course, is that the most professional teams and sporting organisations in the world fully embrace the media and encourage their athletes to engage with them openly and often.

If you take the NBA as an example, players never stop talking to the press. Journalists mingle with the athletes and coaches in the locker room and virtually no questions are off limits. And this is an environment in which the stakes are incredibly high. Say the wrong thing and players stand to lose literally millions of dollars in endorsements and cause huge reputational damage to their franchises, which are also multi-million-dollar operations. Yet the players are given free reign to say, more or less, whatever they like, to whomever they like, whenever they like.

In fact, you’d probably get an interview with LeBron James the week before the NBA Finals far easier than you’d get an interview with David Clifford, or any Kerry player, the week before the All-Ireland.

Clearly, as far as the likes of the LA Lakers are concerned, the positives outweigh the potential negatives. Allowing players to express themselves and share their personalities helps to promote the team’s brand, not to mention the sport itself.

It also breeds an affinity between the fans and the players. After watching that two-minute video of Kyle Sinckler, many Kerry supporters will feel like they know him better than they know half the Kerry panel, even though the latter are their neighbours. I would wager that the majority of Kerry fans couldn’t tell you what the majority of Kerry players sound like, let alone what kind of personalities they have. There’s something wrong about that. There should be more of a connection.

It’s a shame because there are some good characters on this Kerry team, just as there are on every team. There are guys who are good craic. There are guys who are passionate. There are guys who are intelligent and articulate. There are plenty of very capable young men who have things to say, and who won’t fall to pieces when someone puts a microphone in front of their faces. And if some lads don’t want to do interviews, that’s completely fine too. It’s not for everyone. But some people thrive in the spotlight, and the fact that so many former Kerry players go on to become pundits shows that we are well capable of producing media-savvy footballers.

Another upside is that being more open when it comes to media relations would almost certainly lead to more commercial opportunities for players. Brands like to align themselves with likeable characters, but it’s hard to decide who’s likeable when everyone is sticking to the party line and saying the same thing, or not speaking up in the first place.

We have seen what can happen when players and managers do express themselves. John Mullane’s “I love me county”. Kieran Donaghy’s “Well Joe Brolly, what do you think of that?” Ger Loughnane at half-time (half-time!) in the 1995 All-Ireland final declaring that “We’re going to do it”.

These are iconic moments that still resonate with fans many years later. Real people with real emotions speaking from the heart. It adds so much to the spectacle.

The very fact that it’s the Bomber, a hero from Kerry’s Golden Years, who is making this argument indicates what the attitude was like when he lined out in green and gold. If you watch or read interviews from the seventies and eighties, you will find plenty of strong words for opponents, for officials, even for those within the bunker itself. Isn’t that what sport and the GAA is all about? A game of opinions. To pretend that the players don’t have any is, when you think about it, fairly ridiculous.

It might scare the managers but encouraging players to use their own unique voices has the potential to be a real game-changer.

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Glorious weather for Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships

It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough […]

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It was a day of glorious sunshine yesterday (Sunday) as Flesk Valley Rowing Club hosted the 2022 Kerry County Coastal Rowing championships for the very first time in beautiful Castlelough Bay on Lough Lein.

Hundreds flocked to the Valley shore to see the coastal clubs of Kerry race in crews from Under 12 to Masters. As well as clubs from around the Ring of Kerry, there was a strong representation from the Killarney clubs with the Workmen, Commercials and Fossa wearing their colours with pride. The atmosphere, colour, fun and fierce competition produced a spectacular day that will live long in the memory.

The event was opened by the Councillor John O’Donoghue, vice chair of the Killarney Municipal District who congratulated Flesk Valley on their centenary, which occurred during 1920, and wished all of the clubs a successful day’s racing.

The first race was preceded by a special blessing of the boats by Fr Eugene McGillycuddy, who also remembered Brendan Teahan of Cromane Rowing Club in his prayers.

Afterwards John Fleming, chair of Flesk Valley, expressed his immense pride and satisfaction with the success of the regatta.

“It’s our first time ever hosting a regatta, but we wanted to do something special to mark our 102 years in existence,” he said.

“It was a lot of work, but we have a fantastic hard-working committee in Flesk Valley who really pulled out all the stops to make it happen, and we received fantastic support from our members, parents, other clubs and local businesses.”

John also thanked the Kerry Coastal Rowing Association, in particular Mary B Teahan and Andrew Wharton, and the staff of the Killarney National Park for all their support and encouragement in hosting this event.

This was a qualifying event and the Kerry clubs will be heading to Wexford next weekend to complete for honours at the All-Ireland Coastal Rowing Championships.

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Live referee mics should be the norm – swearing concerns be damned

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by Adam Moynihan

I was disappointed to learn that the GAA are preventing TG4 from using their live referee mic in this Sunday’s Wexford hurling final.

(And not just because I had already written an article saying how great live referee mics are and how they are sure to be implemented across the board. Ctrl + A. Delete.)

TG4’s GAA coverage is superb and they raised the bar once again when they mic’d up referee John O’Halloran for the Kerry hurling final between Causeway and Ballyduff.

Pinning a microphone on the referee is standard practice in televised rugby and judging by the positive response to Gaelic games’ first foray into this territory, I was expecting it to become the norm.

It still might but, explaining their decision to The 42, the GAA said that they were not aware beforehand of the ref mic being trialled in Stack Park on Sunday.

“They believe such a development will require more discussion and education if it is to be implemented on a more regular basis in live TV coverage and could possibly need a policy change,” Fintan O’Toole reported.

The image of the Association is surely the primary concern here.

Players and managers – usually the worst behaved participants when it comes to things like swearing – will be among those who get “educated” on the subject. Some verbal abuse that might otherwise be muted for television viewers will, in all likelihood, be picked up by the referee’s microphone. You would imagine that the teams involved will be reminded of this the week of a televised game.

It also makes sense from Croke Park’s point of view to speak to referees and give them guidance on how to conduct themselves when the mic is on.

In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if senior GAA figures are currently fretting over the possibility of an agitated ref making headlines for something they say in the heat of the moment. And make no mistake about it, some match officials can eff and jeff with the best of them.

A friend of mine (a Wexford man, funnily enough) recalls an incident when a teammate was unceremoniously taken out of it by an opponent.

“Ah ref, for f***’s sake!” the victim complained.

“I gave you the f***ing free,” the referee replied. “What do you want me to do, slap him in the face with a wet fish?!”

The GAA might think that a referee swearing like that would leave all of us red-faced. In reality the clip would be a viral sensation and the general public would probably call for the official in question to run for Áras an Uachtárain. (He’d get my ****ing vote.)

The odd swear word from someone involved is bound to sneak through every now and then but you’d hear the same – and plenty more – at any match you attend from Cahersiveen to County Antrim.

Implementing the referee mic on a wider scale is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t appear to take a huge amount of effort or expense for the broadcaster to set it up and, more importantly, it offers a wonderful insight into the unknown.

Listening to referees explain their decisions in real time will clear a lot of things up for commentators, analysts and the media. We will no longer have to speculate about what they did or did not see, or what specific rule is being cited, or why.

Viewers, especially those who might be casual followers of the sport, will appreciate it too and become more educated; I know that’s how I feel when I watch rugby, for example.

It just leads to greater transparency and understanding.

Well done to TG4 and the Kerry County Board for being the pioneers. I’m sure others will follow their lead – as soon as the GAA allow them to do so.

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