Hurlers’ silence might yet prove golden but total lack of Joe McDonagh Cup final promotion leaves awful lot to be desired

Kerry manager Stephen Molumphy barred his players from talking to local media in Currans ten days before Joe McDonagh Cup final, yet three days before the game Eric Leen travelled to Croke Park for a press briefing

WALL OF SILENCE: At last week’s press briefing ahead of the Joe McDonagh Cup final there was the bizarre scenario of Kerry hurler and team captain Paudie O’Connor, pictured, being available to be photographed by local press photographers but not allowed by the team management to speak a word to the local media who were at the Centre of Excellence that same evening. Photo by Domnick Walsh

Paul BrennanKerryman

Last weekend three Kerry adult teams contested important GAA championship games: the senior men and women played a double-header Munster Football Final in Killarney, while a couple of hours later, in Lixnaw, the senior camogie team hosted Laois in the first round of the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship.

Ahead of the games this newspaper dedicated 10 pages of coverage to the three games, with an interview with a player from all three teams. David Moran spoke to the local media for 20 minutes the Monday before the game, talking freely about his injury struggles and his ambition for what’s left of this championship. The day before that, footballer Cáit Lynch was generous with her time and thoughts for Dan Kearney of this parish, while the previous Friday Jackie Horgan was at the Centre of Excellence in Currans, there to chat easily to the local media before her game with the camogie team.

On Saturday afternoon Moran had a two-minute blood sub cameo in the first half before coming on for the last 20 or so minutes of the facile win over Limerick. He didn’t put a foot wrong. Earlier in the day the ladies lost to Cork but defeat certainly couldn't be laid at Lynch’s feet, who was named as one of Kerry’s best performers in Dan Kearney’s match report. In Lixnaw, Horgan was easily one of Kerry’s best players, scoring 1-8 in all, 1-1 from play.

Next Saturday the Kerry hurlers head to Croke Park for the Joe McDonagh Cup final, their place against Antrim secured after some heroic results and performances across a tough campaign. At the Centre of Excellence last Wednesday the hurling team management – all four of them – presented to the local media to chew the fat ahead of the match, which is effectively an All-Ireland Final and a much bigger fixture than any of last Saturday’s three games.

You want to read the thoughts of a Kerry hurler before their big final in Croke Park this week? Get an insight into what it means for one of our inter-county talents to represent his county in an All-Ireland Final? Hear what the Joe McDonagh campaign has been like so far, and what the feeling is among the players ahead of the big game? Forget about it.

Ahead of the biggest day of their season, not one Kerry hurler was allowed to speak to the media a full 10 days ahead of the McDonagh Cup final. Asked by a couple of journalists – including Damian Stack of this newspaper – why that was the case, Kerry manager Stephen Molumphy gave a pretty unconvincing answer that he didn’t want any distractions for his players ahead of the final.

"We didn’t want any distraction just the players this week leading up to it, but, please God, we’ll have some silverware here come next Saturday week and then players, it’ll be an open door absolutely, no worries after that,” Molumphy offered.

Even if one wasn’t terribly convinced by his wishy-washy answer, one might have put Molumphy’s bona fides about not wanting any pre-final distractions down to him just being a diligent manager doing what he thinks is best for his players and the team as a whole. And if, as we all hope, Kerry bring home the silverware on Saturday, who will give a hoot whether or not a player spoke to the media a week and a half before the game?

But here’s the rub. While you won't read a word spoken by a Kerry hurler ahead of the Joe Mac final in The Kerryman or any other Kerry publication this week, or hear them speak on local radio, you might – and we stress might – see or hear a few words from Kerry hurler Eric Leen between here and Saturday in some national publication that bothers to carry what the St Brendan’s man has to say.

Because while Stephen Molumphy believes one of his hurlers speaking to the local media 10 days before an All-Ireland final in Currans on a evening the squad was training there would be a distraction, Stephen Molumphy has no issue with one of his corner backs travelling to Dublin for a media conference three days before that player has to go back up to the capital to hurl in an All-Ireland final.

Now, the thing is that whether Eric Leen has a stormer or a stinker in Croke Park on Saturday, it will have absolutely nothing to do with him doing a press conference at the same venue this Wednesday morning.

It is unprecedented – we are almost certain – in living memory that an adult GAA team featuring in an All-Ireland Final would not present at least one player to speak to the local media in advance of that final. We use the word adult deliberately here because someone in the room is, unfortunately, not acting like one, when grown-up, educated, articulate men are not trusted to answer a few questions from local journalists who have been covering their games all year and for many years before that.

It is curious, then, to say the least, that a player can be dispatched on a 600-kilometre round trip to speak to a group of journalists, most of whom won’t have reported on a single Joe McDonagh Cup game involving Kerry, and to a consort of media that gives, at best, passing coverage of hurling’s second tier championship.

But this is not really about a few local media outlets being denied access to speak to a player before an All-Ireland Final. This is more about a missed opportunity for all the stakeholders invested in hurling in Kerry to promote the final and the game at large in the county.

Last week it was brought to this writer’s attention that former Cork hurler Donal Óg Cusack was strongly critical of Kerry hurling on The Sunday Game, and in particular - in his opinion – that the Kerry County Board wasn’t doing enough to promote hurling in the county. This writer hasn’t heard Cusack’s comments but it is safe to say that hurlers and hurling in Kerry are very well tended too by the County Board, albeit they and the game will always exist in the shadow of football.

County Board officers were right to be miffed at Cusack’s seemingly uninformed critique of how they do their business when it comes to promoting hurling, but then, in the very same week, one has to ask how much has been done to publicise the fact the county is contesting its third Joe McDonagh Cup final in three years?

Has there been a open training session for supporters, especially children, to go along and get a selfie with Shane Conway or a autograph from Fionan Mackessy?

Has a single Kerry hurler – or any of the management – visited a primary school in the last week to talk up the McDonagh Cup final, and maybe bring along a couple of match tickets to raffle out among the kids?

Look on the Kerry GAA website today and there is nothing on the home page (bar an old tweet on a side-bar) to indicate the county hurlers are playing the biggest, most important game of their season, or of Stephen Molumphy’s short, but so far successful time as manager.

Maybe some or all of those things have happened, but if so they have happened in a vacuum. If a tree falls in a forest...

If Kerry win on Saturday – as we all sincerely hope they do – it will be because they were the better team over the 70 minutes, because talents like Mikey Boyle, Colin Walsh, Colum Harty et al will get the very best out of themselves. It will be because Molumphy will have done his due diligence on Antrim, got the match-ups right, and formulated the right game plan. It will be because the team will have fully bought into what this new management has brought this year, and it will be because of the sideline nous and the game smarts of management and players.

If Kerry win it will have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not any player spoke to any media for 10 minutes ahead of the game.

Conversely, if Kerry lose to Antrim it might be because of a poor collective performance by the team, or because of individual mistakes, or because of a turning point like a sending off or the clumsy concession of a goal. It might be because the management didn’t react quickly enough or good enough to the tactics of the match. Or it might be because Antrim are just a better team than Kerry.

If Kerry lose it will have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not any player spoke to any media for 10 minutes ahead of the game.

The best managers cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ and are on top of every detail. They leave nothing to chance. The best managers also empower their players to be the best players and men they can be on and off the pitch. Treating them like the adults they are would seem as good a place as any to start.

Stephen Molumphy’s reason for muting his players last week to save them from ‘distraction’ didn’t really stand up straight then, and news that Eric Leen is on a flight or on a train to Dublin this morning for a press conference makes his manager’s argument what it is: complete nonsense.

Having stopped the Kerry hurlers talking the talk to the local media, let us all really hope these fine young men will walk the walk in Croke Park on Saturday and win the Joe McDonagh Cup they and this management team have worked so hard for this year and deserve.

If they do win then perhaps some people around the team will feel vindicated that silence is golden. But the lack of promotion of this All-Ireland final for the county’s hurlers will speak volumes for how they are really regarded.