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.
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.
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”.
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.
Eamonn Fitzgerald: Keane should know 11 of his 15 starters
As Kerry ramp up towards the championship, Eamonn Fitzgerald gives his assessment of their preparations to date.
One certainly learns more from defeat that from victory, so what has Peter Keane and his management team learned from the 2020 debacle?
In fairness to the Kerry management, they have opened up the panel, brought some new players into the fold. They will bring them along hoping they will be in contention for places in the resurrection, which occurs when they start the 2021 championship campaign with a home game versus Clare in the Fitzgerald Stadium.
Tomorrow, Kerry will meet Tyrone in the NFL semi-final. Their league title is at stake. Too many supporters give them no credit for winning the 2020 National League.
If Kerry win and Dublin win as expected, there won’t be a league final and it will be a shared title. That is disappointing for the players. The GAA should have done better and ensured they a final had to be played.
Peter Keane and the Kerry players have had the ideal preparation for the championship. Three competitive league games so far and one more tomorrow. The Kerry selectors used the matches wisely, trying out as many players as possible to see which combination will deliver success.
Injuries forced their hands for all games and some established players were rested. That gave game time to so many players.
That huge win over Galway in Tralee was a great morale booster. They ran up a big score, inflicting a 22-point defeat on Galway, the worst ever margin of defeat for the Westerners. It was magical stuff, Kerry going at them from the throw-in and imposing their game on hapless Galway.
In my report I said that one swallow does not make a summer, but that one swallow was most welcome and hopefully the rest of the flight would follow to make a summer of delight in Kerry.
Dublin went seven points clear and looked odds-on to make it a 10-point win, but Kerry responded magnificently hitting six unanswered points. It looked all up when Dublin converted a late penalty, but David Clifford came to the rescue in the dying minutes of the game to snatch a draw. Lessons to be learned against the top opposition. Kerry forwards are very good, but the defence is still the Achilles heel.
Roscommon proved as tough as ever, but Kerry competed well. Still that goal leakage at the back was a worry. Diarmuid O’Connor improved steadily and will start at midfield v Clare.
Tomorrow’s very competitive match v Tyrone will tell us more.
I expect at this stage Peter Keane and his selectors have 11 positions filled to start v Clare. They haven’t a surplus of class players and injuries will deprive them of a full hand.
I’ve still to see the Peter Keane gameplan, his stamp on this team. Every manager in any team sport wishes his/her team to play in a certain matter. The defensive tactics in Cork failed. Thankfully, that has changed in the three league games of 2021 and that is encouraging.
The ball is going in much quicker and sooner so that the inside forwards are brought into play. They score freely and once you get the ball inside 50 metres defenders are quite likely to foul. With Seán O’Shea that’s a pointed free in most cases.
I’m not suggesting that the Kerry defenders should send the ball anywhere out of their way. Leave that to supporters of Charlton. Get it out long and accurate setting up an attack, instead of lateral passing and not progressing.
I expect that the Kerry selectors have pencilled in 11 places and the discussion really is for the remaining starting four. They will also will be very mindful of seven other subs. The starting 15 will not be the 15 that will finish. Such is the intensity of the modern game.
Shane Ryan has been out injured for this league and must be doubtful for the early stages of the championship. Kieran Fitzgibbon has been catapulted into goalkeeping duties and he has performed quite well, especially playing behind a much-maligned defence.
The goalkeeper is just not alone a ball stopper, but he is called into play once the opposition start moving out the ball from the other end of the field. He can see possible developments long before his defenders do. He can see the runner, gaps opening and real danger, before defender do. They are too taken up with marking their own men. The keeper is the eyes and ears of the defenders and must be sure and vocal. It will take time for him to assert his authority and the same goes for the kick-outs. Understandably, he hasn’t always succeeded in picking out a fellow player, be it short or long. That will come. Even Cluxton had to learn.
The defence has been much-maligned and leaking so many goals substantiates that argument. In their defence they are often at sixes and sevens with extra men galloping through, because other players let their men sally up field unmarked. However, I cannot understand why this sextet – and it could be any six – do not realise that their first duty is to mark their own men. Too often they stand off their opponents and gift them the initiative.
These are elite players who have been coached in the art of defence in their own clubs since they were juveniles. Too often, some but not all, do not seem to understand that there really is no defined tackle in Gaelic football, but you can get in close. Use your hands strategically and prevent the attacker scoring or laying it off to a fellow player. That’s all legitimate and there is no need to concede a free. I could name several players at club level who operate this defensive tactic so successfully. Great Kerry backs of the past did it. I think of players such as Paudie Lynch and Mike McCarthy.
The present Kerry defenders are plenty fit enough. They need to be near their direct opponents and be pro-active instead of being reactive. Rarely is there need for a long inaccurate clearance. A hand pass, or preferably an accurate punt kick will set the Kerry forwards in motion.
The Kerry full back line should not be drawn 50 yards from goal and certainly not sprinting out as a link man into the opposition’s territory. How often have we seen it by some of these defenders? Mind the house, don’t leave the goalkeeper exposed and the goal leakage will dry up, or curtailed at worst.
I also feel that Gavin Crowley should not be lured into up field sallies. He has a very onerous job. He must mind his man and also mark space. Tim Kennelly and Mick Morris before him were not classy players but were highly effective centre-backs. No yawning gaps to allow Brian Fenton, Eoin Murchan, or Jack McCaffrey exploit this this tempting mortal sin.
Primary duty for wing backs Paul Murphy and Gavin White is to mark their own man and when the two or three opportunities arise in the game they have the explosive pace to go up field to score or assist in a score. If that run breaks down it is not as serious, as if it happened to a centre back exposing the middle for those Dublin invaders.
Midfield has been a problem area for Kerry. David Moran has given Kerry great service over many years, but I contend that he should not be on the starting 15. He may well be on the finishing 15.
Jack Barry is in the frame to start, but not Tommy Walsh.
I also expect Kerry to have a Plan B. My preference is to include Seán O’Shea and Paudie Clifford in the half-forward line, one of them centrally and both tasked with helping out at midfield. The older Clifford is mobile, brave and eager and could do a very effective smash and grab possession ploy. He should start. Now he is more even-tempered than he has been in the past. He can open a defence route one and knows when to deliver to the full forward line. I feel that we can get more out of Seán O’Shea.
I hope Peter Keane doesn’t fall back on the Cork gambit where the half-forward line’s role was to go back to their own half-back line helping out. Tracking back is important, but that last-ditch ploy inevitably draws out the inside forward line. Wouldn’t David Clifford’s marker love to see him 70 yards from goal? Even Kerry’s jewel will not score from that position. Again, send in the ball quickly to Kerry’s best scorers, Clifford and whoever is with him. Paul Geaney, Paudie Clifford, Tony Brosnan and Killian Spillane are in the frame to score.
You can have all the fitness in the world, elaborate game plans and astute use of the bench, but those ingredients alone will not propel Kerry forward in a realistic bid for Sam 2021. Pride in the geansaí will oil the winning machine.
Over to you the present Kerry players, whichever 15 starts v Clare, then Tipperary followed by Cork. Bryan McMahon the former Kerry player and songster was spot on with the importance of dúchas and tradition.
“You cannot box or bottle it, nor grasp it in your hand,
But pride of race and love of place inspire a love of land.”
Tom O’Sullivan and Tony Brosnan start as Keane makes raft of changes
Dingle defender Tom O’Sullivan and Dr Crokes sharpshooter Tony Brosnan have been named in a much-changed starting line-up for Kerry’s National League Round 3 match against Roscommon.
The pair had missed out on Kerry’s first two matchday squads of the season but they look set to feature from the off in Dr Hyde Park on Sunday. The game will be shown live on the TG4 Player (throw-in 3.45pm) with deferred coverage on TG4 at 5.35pm.
O’Sullivan is joined in the full back line by his namesake, Graham O’Sullivan, and Jason Foley, who moves from No. 2 to No. 3. Regular full back Tadhg Morley drops to the bench.
The versatile Brian Ó Beaglaoich will line out at half back alongside centre back Gavin Crowley and there will be a first start on the other wing for Mike Breen of Beaufort. First choice wing backs Paul Murphy and Gavin White are listed as substitutes.
David Moran and Diarmuid O’Connor retain their spots at midfield as Jack Barry misses out on the 26 for the second week in a row.
Stephen O’Brien gets his first start of the year at right half forward with Ronan Buckley of Listry on the 40 and Paul Geaney at 12 for the third consecutive fixture. Seán O’Shea is named amongst the subs.
There is no place on the panel for Killian Spillane as the Clifford brothers, David and Paudie, are joined in the full forward line by Brosnan. David will captain the side in Paul Murphy’s stead.
As expected, Kieran Fitzgibbon holds on to the No. 1 jersey. Eoghan O’Brien of Churchill has been drafted into the extended panel to provide extra cover in the absence of the injured Shane Ryan, but goalkeeping coach Brendan Kealy continues to deputise as sub keeper.
Liam Kearney of Spa makes his first matchday squad of the campaign.
Roscommon, meanwhile, are expected to name their team tomorrow. Listowel native Conor Cox, who made seven appearances for Kerry before transferring to the Rossies in 2019, was a 50th-minute substitute in both of their matches to date.
Following those defeats to Dublin and Galway, Anthony Cunningham’s side will be facing into a relegation playoff semi-final whatever the outcome of Sunday’s match.
Kerry can mathematically join them in the bottom two but Peter Keane’s men would need to lose by at least 14 points and Galway would also need to beat Dublin.
Kerry team to face Roscommon
1. Kieran Fitzgibbon (Kenmare Shamrocks)
2. Graham O’Sullivan (Dromid Pearses)
3. Jason Foley (Ballydonoghue)
4. Tom O’Sullivan (Dingle)
5. Brian Ó Beaglaoich (An Ghaeltacht)
6. Gavin Crowley (Templenoe)
7. Mike Breen (Beaufort)
8. David Moran (Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s)
9. Diarmuid O’Connor (Na Gaeil)
10. Stephen O’Brien (Kenmare Shamrocks)
11. Ronan Buckley (Listry)
12. Paul Geaney (Dingle)
13. David Clifford (Fossa)
14. Tony Brosnan (Dr Crokes)
15. Paudie Clifford (Fossa)
Adam Moynihan: So many GAA rules need tidying up
Is there a sport in the world that alters its rulebook more frequently than Gaelic football? Every year when the first ball is thrown in, we’re left scratching our heads, frantically googling “GAA rule changes”, trying to come to terms with the latest updates to our playing protocol.
The changes to the advantage rule are causing consternation at the moment but the irony is that the game already has a number of laws that are either vague or poorly enforced. Below are just a few that come mind.
Surely it would make sense to iron these out before we even think about introducing further amendments.
1. Advanced mark. At its best (I would say less than 10% of the time), the advanced mark is a decent rule that rewards long-kicking and catches close to the goal. At its worst (the remaining 90% of the time), it’s a stupid rule that rewards nothing skills like short-kicking and unchallenged chest-catches. Plus, it abruptly stops the play for no good reason.
Of all the rule changes in recent years, it possibly holds the title of ‘most hated’. It simply has to go.
2. The tackle. You can only use one hand, but sometimes that’s a foul. You can only use an open hand, but sometimes that’s a foul. You can’t pull an opponent, but sometimes you can. You can’t push an opponent, but sometimes you can. What is a Gaelic football tackle? It’s so vague and open to interpretation. From game to game and even from tackle to tackle, you never really know what’s going to be foul and what isn’t.
It’s a difficult one for rule-makers to sort out but it’s not going to sort itself out, that’s for sure.
3. Booking both players when there’s a wrestling match. The ball is coming up the field. As the play approaches, a corner forward and a corner back become entangled and end up rolling around on the ground. Who do you think initiated that contact? Who has something to gain from that wrestling match? It’s almost always the defender. Is the forward supposed to go limp and play dead like they’re being attacked by a grizzly bear?
They have to stand up for themselves, and they shouldn’t be booked for doing so.
4. Feigning injury. The law states that attempting “to achieve an advantage by feigning a foul or injury” is a bookable offence. While the “foul” part can be tricky to spot on the fly, the latter half of the rule is generally far more black and white. Thankfully, players flopping to the ground and holding their faces when they’ve barely been touched is less prevalent in Gaelic football than it is in other sports, but it does happen. Yet how many yellow cards have been brandished for this infraction?
The shame of getting booked for playacting would be a huge deterrent and help stamp this behaviour out for good. It should be punished to the letter of the law.
5. Moving frees too far forward for dissent/impeding the kick. When a free is awarded, the penalty for dissent or impeding/slowing down the taking of the free is 13 metres. How many times have we seen an over-zealous referee bring the ball forward 20 metres or more?
I recall playing a minor game for Legion out in Rathmore. I committed a foul outside of our 65-metre line. For questioning the call, the ref carried the ball forward well inside our 45. For questioning the distance, he brought it in – and this isn’t a joke or an exaggeration – to the 13-metre line. That’s roughly 55 metres of a penalty instead of 26.
That’s an extreme example, granted, but even a five-metre bonus out the field could change the course of a match.
6. Hop balls. From the throw-in at the start of each half, every player bar the four midfielders is meant to be inside the two 45-metre lines. A metre or two encroachment here or there isn’t the end of the world, but in the 2019 All-Ireland final we saw what happens when the rule isn’t properly enforced. At the beginning of the second half, there were two extra players within the 65s by the time David Moran touched the ball down. Another six were just about to enter. One of those six, Eoin Murchan, gathered possession and scored a season-defining goal.
If a rugby or soccer player got away with being 20 metres offside from a kick-off, the referee would be demoted to the lower leagues in a flash.
Hop balls during open play are even messier. The players not contesting should be 13 metres away from the referee. The most you’d normally get is five, and that’s if the referee makes a big song and dance about it. By the time the ball reaches its apex there is invariably a sea of bodies awaiting its return to earth, and the resulting maul is anything but pretty.
Allowing the two nominated players to properly compete for the hop ball would lead to a greater possibility of clean possession, and some football as opposed to a spot of rugby.
7. Steps. Speaking of that Eoin Murchan goal… (No, I will not let it go.) The manner in which players travel with the ball is one of the most fundamental aspects of Gaelic football, yet it is arguably the least properly policed. Four steps is the rule. Four steps before you have to release the ball or hop or solo. But, of course, the inside joke is that it’s not four, is it? Not really. Sometimes five is okay. Sometimes six. You’d get away with seven. Maybe eight. Possibly nine. Ten? Ten is taking liberties. But yes, you could feasibly get away with ten as well.
Stringently enforcing this particular law might seem like a potential nightmare because players are so used to getting away with five or more steps. It would certainly prove contentious at the beginning, but everyone would adjust.
As it stands, it’s just another half-enforced rule that makes you wonder why they bothered writing it down in the first place.
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