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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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Jordan’s new role with St Paul’s

By Sean Moriarty Killarney’s Paralympic hero Jordan Lee is to take on a new role with Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club. Jordan began his sporting career with the local basketball club where he created history by becoming the first amputee athlete to represent their country at international level. The High Jumper then switched […]

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By Sean Moriarty

Killarney’s Paralympic hero Jordan Lee is to take on a new role with Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club.

Jordan began his sporting career with the local basketball club where he created history by becoming the first amputee athlete to represent their country at international level.

The High Jumper then switched to track and field and qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics where he made history by becoming the first Kerry athlete to act as a flag bearer for an opening ceremony and lead an Irish team into an Olympic Stadium.

Now back home and preparing for the next Olympics in Paris, he has returned to his first love and will join the backroom staff at the local Division One basketball club ahead of their National League campaign which begins next month.

His father Jarlath Lee is head coach with St Paul’s.

“Jordan is joining us as our strength and conditioning coach,” Jarlath told the Killarney Advertiser.

INTERNATIONALS

Meanwhile, Scott’s Lakers St Paul’s Killarney Basketball Club National League team will have a distinctive feel to it this year after securing the services of three overseas players it for the season ahead.

The club’s biggest signing is Canadian professional Ben Miller. It was originally hoped that the former two-time Manitoba Player of the Year would play for the local side last season but the pandemic got in the way and the National League was never played. However, he did play two training games this time last year before returning to Canada until travel restrictions lifted.

“He is a good guy, very approachable and very good with the young members,” Jarlath said.

The club has also signed Bulgarian International Emilian Grudov.

The 20-year-old has already represented his home country at U16, 18 and 20 level.

“He is young, athletic and very good offensively,” added Lee.

The returning Lithuanian Dianius Varanaukus completes the club international line up for the 2020/21 season.

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Soccer coach licensed to one of the highest levels in Ireland

By Sean Moriarty A Killarney soccer coach has been praised by the FAI for her contribution to soccer in the county and on the occasion of her being granted a UEFA B Licence this week. Ramona Keogh of Mastergeeha FC has qualified for one of highest-ranking coach licences in Europe.The UEFA B Licence is a […]

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By Sean Moriarty

A Killarney soccer coach has been praised by the FAI for her contribution to soccer in the county and on the occasion of her being granted a UEFA B Licence this week.

Ramona Keogh of Mastergeeha FC has qualified for one of highest-ranking coach licences in Europe.
The UEFA B Licence is a coaching licence mandated by UEFA, the official governing body of European football. The licence is one level below the UEFA A Licence and allows holders to be head coaches of amateur clubs, youths up to age 16, and assistant coaches for professional clubs.

Ramona started her training in November 2019 and continued, when restrictions allowed, on several block weekends taking place in FAI Headquarters Dublin, Foto Island in Cork, and final assessments in NUIG in Galway.

“Ramona played a significant role in the course group, supporting the younger coaches and challenging those more experienced, ensuring that the group was dynamic, engaging, interactive and a real positive learning environment,” said the FAI’s Head of Coach Education FAI Niall O’Regan.

“Ramona has been a significant role model for not only female coaches but also males coaches in the Kerry region and has done phenomenal work in her previous club Killarney Celtic and more recently with Mastergeeha. It is so important to have such role models and the motivation Ramona has shown is infectious and many coaches will continue in the same vein.”

For Ramona, this week’s award was the culmination of months of hard work, seminars and study.

“It was really tough at the time, final assessments had been submitted, everything had then switched to Zoom and we were so eager to get it finished. Luckily enough I got to finish off a lot of the course content online and then had individual assessments with my tutor Richie Holland current Cork City Men’s Assistant Manager,” she told the Killarney Advertiser. “Then when we returned to outdoor sports in July we got our practical assessments finished with Galway Utd in NUIG.”

ASSESSMENT

The final assessment took place at Mastergeeha FC pitch – the first time ever that a UEFA coaching assessment took place in Kerry.

“I was coaching in Mastergeeha FC in Killarney pre covid and based on logistics and other coaches’ locations in Munster on my UEFA B I was delighted to coordinate a UEFA B assessment with the FAI to be held in the Mastergeeha with the help of the committee,” she added.

“Tom O’Connor FAI Coach Educator and former Interim Republic of Ireland’s Head Coach was really impressed with the setup, the standard of really good footballers and the fantastic committee that ran it so smoothly.”

It was the first time UEFA B assessments were ever held in Kerry and the facilities, committee and the Mastergeeha U16 Boys team were outstanding that day.

She received mentoring and support from some of the biggest names in Irish soccer.

“I was delighted and honoured to receive my UEFA B Diploma Licence,” she said. “Throughout the diploma I’ve had some great tutors, mentors and some great guest speakers from Robbie Keane, Vera Pauw, Stephen Rice and Ruud Dokter FAI High Performance.

“There was a great core group of us on the course from Irish Senior International Players like Katie McCabe, Megan Campbell, Louise Quinn, Niamh Fahy and I’ve made some amazing friendships with all the ladies on the course. From the start it was a group of huge experience, drive and determination was something we all had in common and it’s great to see us all complete it together.”

LOCAL HELP

She could not have done it without the help of her home club.

“On a personal note, I just want to thank Mastergeeha FC for all their help and support, with special mention to all the management committee, teams and coaches. Must give a mention to Allan Moynihan, Brendan Buckley, Paul Lenihan and Ulick O’Sullivan also. I’m really looking forward to getting back to Academy training in the next two weeks,” she added.

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