Friday 21 July 2017

Martin Breheny: Gooch v Tweek - Two Kerry legends, two different farewells

Both served Kerry with distinction for many years but the adulation on their farewells was all one way

Colm Cooper (left) and John Griffin (right).
Colm Cooper (left) and John Griffin (right).
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This is the story of 'Gooch' and 'Tweek', two 33-year-old Kerrymen whose inter-county careers overlapped for 13 years.

They retired within six weeks of each other, Colm Cooper ending his days as a Kerry footballer in early April, John Griffin signing off from the hurling scene late last week.

The departure of 'Gooch' transcended GAA and indeed sport. Newspaper supplements were published, radio packages broadcast and, as tributes flowed and arguments began as to where he ranked on the ladder of all-time greats, there was scarcely anyone in the country who didn't know that the Killarney man had retired.

More followed. A call-up to the 'Sunday Game' panel and a newspaper column ensures that Cooper will remain very much in the public eye this summer.

Autumn brings the publication of his autobiography, no doubt accompanied by a 'Late Late Show' appearance and a range of radio and newspaper interviews. It's exposure on an industrial scale for 'Gooch', whose inter-county career ran from 2002 to last year.

It's different for Griffin, affectionately known as 'Tweek', who hurled for Kerry between 2003 and last year. His retirement, announced in an email from Kerry PRO, John O'Leary, last Friday, drew little media reaction.

O'Leary gave plenty detail about the Lixnaw man's career, the longevity of which underlined his commitment to hurling. Kerry county chairman Tim Murphy spoke of how Griffin brought a "unique single-mindedness to the promotion of the game in Kerry and became a shining light of how best this could be achieved".

Career highlights included two Christy Ring Cup wins, the second as captain in 2015, promotion to Division 1B of the League and to the Leinster championship 'round robin' series. 'Tweek' was also selected as a replacement All-Star for the trip to Texas in 2015. It's a modest haul by comparison with 'Gooch' but then there's a vast difference in the opportunity range for Kerry footballers and hurlers. The same applies elsewhere too, while many counties operate at the lower end of the scale in both codes.

'Tweek' signed off by urging young Kerry hurlers to "make yourselves available (for the county), work hard, be ambitious, and enjoy what it has to offer". It wasn't necessary for 'Gooch' to urge the Kingdom's youth to pledge themselves to the football cause, but then the tradition - not to mention the possibility of success - is very different.

By the end of this year, there will be few facets of football life on which 'Gooch' won't have commented in the various media outlets and his book.

All very interesting I'm sure, but will it be any more perceptive than Griffin on hurling? We won't know because players outside the top strata in any sport rarely get asked for their opinions. It's as if on-field success automatically equates to off-pitch expertise, which is a truly daft concept.

In an age when players from top counties are regularly offered for interview by companies as part of commercial deals, we have the ludicrous situation where relative newcomers have their opinions on championship formats, rules and other issues of the day hoisted on the public while far more experienced players from weaker counties are ignored.

Opinions

Effectively, the success or otherwise of a county decides the merit of its players' opinions. If Griffin had been born in Cork, Kilkenny or Tipperary, would he now have a newspaper column, a slot on 'The Sunday Game' and a book deal?

And if Cooper had been born in Leitrim, Wicklow or Carlow, would anyone care what he thought, irrespective of how much he had contributed to his county and to football? Good luck to 'Gooch', who is a very likeable and interesting character, in all his endeavours. I have used him merely to illustrate the difference between the experiences of two players in the same county, whose careers ran parallel for so long.

Players - and indeed ex-players - from weaker counties can often be a lot more interesting than their counterparts at the elite end but their voices remain largely unheard.

Carlow football manager Turlough O'Brien said on Monday that he found it most annoying to hear pundits (most of whom are from successful counties) running down the football championship, simply because not all games in the early stages are competitive.

"If they find it so bad, why be involved at all? Nobody is forcing them to watch," he said.

He fears that negative talk can have a dispiriting influence on players from weaker counties as it comes with the clear implication that they are wasting their time.

Thankfully, it hasn't happened in Carlow, whose footballers are now preparing for a clash with Dublin after a splendid win over Wexford. Still, O'Brien has a point. Players from weaker counties deserve respect, not snide one-liners. It's their Association too.

Irish Independent

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