Saturday 19 January 2019

Managers say it best when they say nothing at all

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Writing about the strange hostility of Martin O'Neill to the interviewing style of RTE's Tony O'Donoghue, we pointed out that some of the greatest football managers have had this incandescent loathing of the media, for reasons that are never entirely clear.

Alex Ferguson at any press conference was usually a vision of bad-humoured belligerence. It just seemed to get him going at some visceral level, this notion that these demonstrably inferior people were sitting there in front of him, possibly even forming opinions - wrong opinions, naturally - about what the man at the top table was sharing with them.

For the journalists to argue they were "just doing a job" would merely rise him to further displays of disdain, though in truth anything they said would have the same effect. He would eye them with a baleful expression which said, "if this is you doing your job, do some other f***ing job then".

So perhaps we need to be looking at this Jim Gavin "stand-off" with RTE in a broader perspective, noting first of all that there seems to be some stated reason for it - apparently the Dublin manager is declining to be interviewed by RTE due to some unpleasantness over DVD footage which Dublin had requested for training purposes, which RTE felt they could not provide, as they are not the primary rights holders.

I know it's not much of a reason, if you apply the "reasonable man" standard, but again a man such as Fergie never really needed much of a reason to hate the media - I am thinking of his response to journalists who sought his opinion on an incident captured by TV cameras in which Wayne Rooney had clearly pushed his hand into the face of the Bolton player Tal Ben Haim.

I quote Ferguson's words from Daniel Taylor's book, This Is the One: "You're f**king on about Rooney, because he has a wee slap in the face, and no matter whatever f**king else matters in the f***ing game? You see f**king behaviour like that!! He [Ben Haim] should f**king be up before the FA, not f**king Rooney. You are allowing that f**king c**t to cheat…

"It's a f**king disgrace. And I'm not f**king saying anything more about it now. It's up to you to f**king do it... f***ing joke he is, lying about, rolling about in f**king agony. Any other player than Rooney you wouldn't have bothered your arse..."

So perhaps the one thing about this DVD business which could have an adverse effect on Jim Gavin is that hardliners might perceive he is somehow weaker than the soccer men on the old enemy. Conversely, they would laud the fact that Gavin never goes down to the level of Fergie in terms of foul-mouthedness, proving again the innate moral superiority of the Gaelic code.

Otherwise it is hard to see a downside here, for anyone. Certainly if I were a GAA reporter, I'd be wanting Gavin to extend the boycott to all media. I would consider it a merciful release that on some very busy day in the season ahead, maybe the All-Ireland final itself, I would not have to waste any of my precious time trying to get a few vaguely interesting words out of a man who would prefer to be saying no words at all.

Sports reporters, like many other reporters, have a tendency to become de-sensitised to the utter uselessness of so many press conferences, those dreary little power games which offer no wisdom or even much basic intelligence, but merely offer a platform on which some important person can behave… well, like an important person.

I think we all need to re-appraise these events, to cease to regard them as journalism in any meaningful sense, just some tedious offshoot of the PR game which fills a few paragraphs with boring "nanny-goats" - paragraphs that a great journalist such as Con Houlihan, for example, would have been filling with beautiful observations of his own, about the meaning of life.

So, in an odd way, I am very much on the same page as Jim Gavin, though we are not necessarily reading exactly the same lines. Indeed I see a real opportunity here, for Gavin to take what Alex Ferguson used to call a "stance", and simply to announce that he has no desire to engage in any further dealings with the media, on any football matter. Or any other matter… for that matter.

I mean, it wasn't just the DVD scandal that caused him to lose his enthusiasm for the media game. I first heard him displaying his attitude to these issues during a celebrated interview with Colm Parkinson on Off The Ball, concerning a "friendly" game after which a Dublin player had spent two nights in hospital due to an "incident" with an Armagh player - before the ball had been thrown in.

Pressed by Parkinson about the unfriendliness of it all, Gavin had this to say: "It's a very regrettable incident, it shouldn't have happened. It's not part of our game but, as I've said, both players spoke to each other after the game..."

Parkinson kept pressing, Gavin kept saying these words, almost precisely, time after time. Here was Parkinson doing his job, and Gavin maintaining the Fergie position towards him, that on the whole, it would be better if he was doing some other job.

But it did raise a further question as to why Gavin was bothering to talk to Parkinson at all, when his intention was clearly to say nothing - an effect which could be achieved in a far more agreeable fashion by, well, saying nothing. By doing no interviews in the first place.

I could certainly live with that, as I could live with Gavin's disengagement from the broadcast media after comments made by TV pundits were construed by him as an attack on the "good name" of Diarmuid Connolly.

And for several years now, I have been able to live with Tyrone supremo Mickey Harte's boycott of RTE, which apparently developed out of unhappiness at the treatment by Montrose bosses of GAA commentator Brian Carthy.

And yes, you may argue that I am not a GAA man to the core, but I would also be able to live contentedly in a world in which I never saw a Jose Mourinho press conference again, or that of any other passive-aggressive football egomaniac - though again of course I would probably make an exception for Fergie, who was aggressive-aggressive.

Maybe in some way that is not rightly understood, the managers can't withdraw completely from these encounters, because they see them as ways of giving example to their players in resisting the enemy, a bit like holding out under the interrogation of the Brits.

If they have any use for the accursed media at all, perhaps it's in filling that Brit-shaped hole. But again that is hardly enough to justify these unhappy arrangements, the terrible waste of time that they are.

Moreover, the manager who says absolutely nothing, may at least become a man of mystery - the way it is now, they want to reveal so little, and yet they end up revealing all.

Sunday Independent

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