Wednesday 14 November 2018

You say it best when you say nothing at all


WHO WOULD want to be a sports reporter is a question I often ask myself when things start to go horribly wrong live on TV or radio.

The question popped into my head again at the weekend when I watched Clare McNamara take on the steely-faced, Brian 'you're-question-better-begoodCody in the bowels of Croke Park after Kilkenny's not so massive win over Waterford.

The successful manager has had a strenuous relationship with the media to a large extent and he is only one of many G.A.A. managers who seem to look upon these eager-eyed journalists, who are armed to the teeth with furry microphones and shiny, digital voice recorders, with nothing short of contempt or at best, bemusement.

Now nothing really went wrong with Sunday's interview. It was all cordial enough but the question I asked myself was when was the last riveting sports interview you heard with a G.A.A. manager and what exactly can a sports reporter ask these defensive-looking, almost hostile men that could unlock some interesting, controversial or cliché free comment?

They can't mention tactics or strategies as these are obviously not going to be discussed on live TV.

Contentious issues are normally avoided and even when someone does have the courage to speak out such as Wexford's Anthony Masterson, they are shot down and humiliated by being forced to write a letter of apology.

Imagine Roy Keane writing a letter of apology to some referee or hack he insulted. It wouldn't happen.

So if none of the above can be mentioned then really we are left with inquiring as to their reaction following the win, where they saw the winning and losing of the game, who they thought stood out and a quick look ahead to the next game, should there be one?

In fairness, what else can you ask them as they stand all glaring and glowering into the camera?

On Sunday last you had two totally different interviewees in the form of Davy Fitzgerald and Brian Cody.

With the Waterford boss you never know what you are going to get but you can be guaranteed to get some of the following. 1 - that mischievous smirk that you can't help but be intrigued by. 2 - passion-dripping words from the heart. 3 - at least one finger-pointing episode.You turn on an interview with Davy Fitzgerald and you'll watch it because he is a man who says a lot of what he thinks and even if he is making something up it at least sounds interesting.

On the other hand you turn on an interview with Brian Cody and you get a feeling of what it was like to have played against him when he so heroically filled the number three jersey with the Cats a few decades ago - defensive, burly, aggressive, unforgiving, unrelenting, unaccommodating.

Sunday's discourse with Clare McNamara was, while honest and frank, also littered with the usual tripe that is rolled out for the national media such as 'at the start of the year this is where we wanted to be'.

Well obviously this is where you wanted to be, every team wants to be there at the start of the year. How about telling us what it means to you? How about showing us a smidgeon of emotion? He might as well have said 'well this was a game of two halves' or 'we won because we scored more than they did'.

Where's the fire, the passion? Where's the hearty smile of achievement at having reached his eleventh All-Ireland final as manager, at having guided his squad of terrifically-talented warriors through to the pinnacle of their game.

Of course, there is one man who can lure Mr. Cody out from his comfort zone.

A man who puts the hard questions to all managers at somewhat dodgy times and who has felt the wrath of more than one gaffer on live TV.

Yes, the man I speak of is Marty Morrissey who, quite legitimately I thought at the time, queried the awarding of the penalty in the 2009 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary in the post-match interview with Brian Cody only to experience a caustic backlash reserved for errant pupils who didn't do their homework.

In fairness to Marty he took it on the chin and didn't fight back which he could have done.

He could have trotted out a statement like 'is this the respect that you show the G.A.A. fans of Ireland by refusing to answer a question about a major decision that undoubtedly swung the game in Kilkenny's favour and paved the way for their victory in the biggest hurling game of the year?' Any reporter worth his notebook would have asked the question that the Clare man put forward.

Aside from the G.A.A. there have been plenty of interviews on both radio and TV that have gone disastrously wrong.

Brian Clough's interview with John Motson about the Match of the Day coverage of soccer is surely one of the all-time classic verbal bust-ups, Roy Keane's telephone ringing interview and that burning stare across the room, Lance Armstrong's dismantling of Paul Kimmage at a press conference after Kimmage had earlier described him as a 'cancer' on the sport, and a host of other Youtube specials from across the world with many ending in blows are there for all to see and cringe while doing so.

Part of the problem in these interviews I believe is the fact that the sports manager or star is being interviewed and written or talked about by people who they may see as having never reached their level of achievement, with most not having played the sport at any level whatsoever.

Aside from Kimmage in the examples I gave, there are hardly any sports reporters who would have any experience at playing any of the sports they report on at any serious level.

Top players and managers are usually interviewed by TV or radio personalities who, while hugely knowledgeable and passionate about the games they report from, would be viewed by their interviewees (especially in difficult moments) as people who are not truly qualified to ask serious sporting questions.

So who can blame the stars from looking at the eager reporters with disdain when they are hit with questions they just don't want to answer?

The aforementioned Cody looks like he wants to be anywhere else in the world besides that hallway in the depths of Croke Park and that's ok, not everyone is cut out for TV work, not everyone likes the glare of the cameras.

But men and women in positions like his should show the viewers and fans some respect by not trotting out claptrap on a continuous basis.

Every man and his dog can only be filled with admiration for these top sports people, especially Brian Cody, but he lowers himself slightly in the eyes of TV viewers every time he steps in front of the camera.

The solution to the problem is to recruit former stars and greats to do interviews or present TV programmes but unfortunately the problem with this is that the majority of sporting greats were great at sport and would look like Marty Morrissey would look in a one-on-one battle with Tommy Walsh if they ever set foot in front of a camera or behind a microphone - ever so slightly out of their depth.

I would offer Mick Kinnane's recent appointment to the RTE Racing team as an example of this.

In Kinnane's first few broadcasts he came across as a fish completely out of water and I mean no offence to the great jockey as he will learn and become familiar with the important role of reporting major sporting events all over the world over time.

But it simply serves to highlight the crux of this argument and that is - let the sport stars and managers do their job and let the sports reporters do theirs and somewhere in the middle we should find entertaining sports viewing. That is what we pay for after all.