Sunday 20 August 2017

Ciaran Whelan: Think before you decide to hit out at our amateur players

Read Ciaran Whelan every week in The Herald

21 May 2017; Aidan O'Shea of Mayo watches on from the substitutes bench during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Sligo at Elvery's MacHale Park in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
21 May 2017; Aidan O'Shea of Mayo watches on from the substitutes bench during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Sligo at Elvery's MacHale Park in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ciaran Whelan

So we are up and running in Championship 2017 and aside from Carlow, nobody is talking about the actual football.

The last week in GAA circles turned into a circus, with all the fuss about Aidan O’Shea after a needless observation from Bernard Flynn on an RTé podcast show. 

Whether Bernard was right or wrong is irrelevant. Whether Aidan O’Shea was right or wrong in doing what he did is also irrelevant. It was a nothing story and it is water under the bridge.

However, the public and media reaction to last week’s story and other incidents in recent years has shown that the society we live in now, with social media and other

on-line broadcasts, means that players and teams are under more scrutiny than ever.

It got me thinking this weekend about my time playing with Dublin. Back in 2003 and 2004 we were knocked out early in the Leinster Championship by Laois and Westmeath respectively. Two tough years where the level of performance was not acceptable in the capital.

As one of the key players in the team at the time, I was always going to come in for a lot of negative criticism. My confidence was low, I was playing with fear and deep down, I knew I was not performing.  When Dublin lost big games in the years to follow, I knew I would get it in the neck, regardless of how I played. I was the fall guy. I was the easy target and I knew it.

The thing is that most players know themselves when they have had a bad game or been involved in an incident that will draw attention. As a player while you may not like it, sometimes you just have to suck up the criticism. It is part and parcel of a high profile sport.

Times were a lot different back then. Daily newspapers and The Sunday Game programmes were the only media platforms where public-viewed analysis was on show.  It was easy to avoid and generally, that is what most players did at that time. After a couple of days you knew it would pass.

However, as much as you tried to avoid it, you could still sense it and feel it. You would get vibes from family or friends who were trying to support you, thinking you were aware of the flak that was coming your way.

Your mental resolve needed to be good. It had the potential to suck confidence from you.

Likewise, if you were going well in matches, you would avoid the plaudits but still sense the positivity in the air which would boost your confidence and belief.

Which brings me to the point I made on The Sunday Game last weekend? Judge Aidan O’Shea and other big players on the field of play through their performances, not on anything they do off the field of play. Perception is not reality.

Times have changed and many people do not understand how difficult it must be now to be a high-profile inter-county player. Every dog on the street can portray an opinion, in the hope that someone retweets it to boost their own ego.

In addition, there are numerous podcast shows, multiple on-line articles, daily newspapers  and websites looking to add fuel to any opinion or take a comment out of context. Whether we like it or not this is now the  world we live in.

The performances of players, managers and teams are more scrutinised than ever and they have to deal with that challenge.

So when a story like last week’s about the off-field behaviour of a player that is obviously linked to perceptions coming from the Mayo inner circle gathers pace, we need to ask ourselves a few questions, as a GAA family.

(1) Are we mindful and respectful of the mental health of amateur players?

(2) Do we know how criticism  might impact on them personally?

(3) Do we think the players can avoid it?

(4) Do we remember that amateur players have to go to work each Monday morning?

I would suggest that each day last week Aidan O’Shea wanted this needless personal story to die away. 

But instead each day, as he was preparing for his first championship match of the season, more fuel was added to the fire with many different opinions provided all week.

The usual format followed. The critics come first for a few days, followed by a wave of defenders – the usual process for a week around any controversy this summer on the field of play.

So why am I now writing this article when it could keep the issue in the public eye even longer?

To deliver a simple message: Before you type or express an opinion, step back and ask yourself if you need to launch a personal attack on an amateur player. Is your view a perception rather than a reality and is it relevant to the team or the player’s performance within the team?

Ego is negative, self-respect is positive.

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