Thursday 21 March 2019

Comment: GAA punditry has deteriorated into frequent on-screen character assassinations

Kieran McGeeney was on the receiving end this summer
Kieran McGeeney was on the receiving end this summer

Declan Bogue

FOR some reason, the name of Mickey 'The Gun' O'Sullivan has never quite vacated the space of my mind normally cluttered by old landline numbers, the grounds of lower-league English soccer clubs and the starting fifteen of the 1997 Championship final losing Tempo Maguires team.

No doubt about it, I can be a staggering bore but a great man to go at a table quiz with.

'The Gun' gained a small level of infamy in August 2003. While Tyrone were terrorizing the regal figures of the Kerry football team in the All-Ireland semi-final, The Gun decided he had seen enough. He left his seat, vaulted the advertising hoardings and swung a punch at unsuspecting Kerry manager Páidí ÓSé.

It was bizarre, unprecedented madness. The sort of thing you convince yourself 'wouldn't happen today.' But it shouldn't have happened in 2003 either.

Happily, Páidí caught sight of his attacker in time to fend the blows. He did not return fire. Stewards sorted it.

Anyone who has ever stood on a sideline managing a team knows what it is like to take abuse, and abuse takes many forms.

When it is addressed to you on a sideline, until you develop an armour, it has a paralysing effect. My only example I can give is when the under-21 team I was co-managing got needlessly involved in some handbags towards the end of a game we were comfortably winning.

Somebody standing across the wire suggested forcefully that I should stop standing there daydreaming and get over to sort it. Perhaps it might have made him happy if I ran over to punch schoolchildren.

Because Gaelic games are embedded in the community, managers are accessible and have always been susceptible to abuse. Over the last two decades, this has mushroomed.

In 1995 after a defeat to Meath in the league, Wexford hurling manager Liam Griffin had a 'supporter' spit in his face, little over a year before he led then to an All-Ireland.

Tommy Lyons had to dodge the spittle of his own Dublin fans as he made his way off the pitch too in 2003. Six years later, his role in the fall-out over the Cork hurler's strike brought about a death threat to Gerald McCarthy, who refused to leave his post, but eventually relented.

In recent seasons, Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald along with Limerick counterpart TJ Ryan have had to deal with very public physical confrontations. 

We can't discount how the nature of punditry has also changed beyond recognition. What once was fair and measured comment has deteriorated into frequent on-screen character assassinations by pundits speaking without any relevant experience.

Enter into the equation social media, with the rabbit holes of vines, retweets and likes, and the abuse is endlessly refreshed and reheated. Attention is gifted to those with the most extreme views.

In recent weeks, managers have not been shy in calling out the tone of criticism directed towards them and their contemporaries.

Damian Barton said on these pages only on Saturday; "…other uncontrollable issues such as the stuff in the media and Jesus Christ, these people need to stand on the sideline, go to training two or three times a week, taking calls at two in the morning!"

Or Cavan manager Terry Hyland, who asked about his future after the defeat to Derry, replied, "I always get amused when I get asked that question. I don't know, really, why the media comes out with this bulls***"

Another example. Meath manager Mick O'Dowd felt moved after their qualifier defeat to hit out at, "Overpaid, inflated egos acting as pundits that are just ripping decent people in the GAA apart."

And is there any point going into the various falsehoods pedalled in the last year about Kieran McGeeney? Let's leave it there, so.

The unintended consequence of this culture is that it is players that suffer more than managers.

Managers are confined by the lack of trophies their team can compete for. In most cases, there is nothing for second-level tier teams to aim towards other than league promotion.

You can fill the void by talk of long-term projects and building for the future, but most county boards get infected with a boom-or-bust mentality, and the imported practise of English tabloid writers calling for a manager's head after any negative run of results.

The end result leaves generations of players that bounce along from manager to manager, with no hand-over work and no progression.

The trouble for managers, is that this trend is not going to reverse anytime soon. If they want the job, then the unfair scrutiny and the hurlers on the ditch are all part of it.

As Omar from The Wire was fond of saying, "All in the game, yo!"

Belfast Telegraph

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