Tuesday 15 October 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Deluded GAA managers could learn a thing or two from NFL's nonchalant new kid on the block'

While Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs can cheerfully chew the fat with journalists
the week of a big game, Premier County hurlers can’t take a risk like that. Photo: Getty Images
While Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs can cheerfully chew the fat with journalists the week of a big game, Premier County hurlers can’t take a risk like that. Photo: Getty Images

Hold the Back Page: Eamonn Sweeney

Patrick Mahomes is a very special player. In just his second year in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs star is the third quarterback in league history to throw 50 touchdowns in a season and just the second, Peyton Manning being the other, to throw for more than 5,000 yards while doing so.

The tall Texan comes across as a cheerful, engaging and unpretentious individual, qualities which were much in evidence during a recent televised interview with the doyen of American Football journalists, Peter King.

One moment beautifully illustrated how Mahomes gets it done. As the two men strolled around the Chiefs' practice facility, King asked Mahomes how he'd managed the already famous no-look pass to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson against the Baltimore Ravens last month.

Mahomes grips a football and says, "I step up here and I just see Demarcus Robinson streaking across the field, the safety sitting right there. So instead of looking at 'D Rob' I was kinda givin' the look over here and then I just . . ." On 'just' he looks one way, throws the ball the other and hits a small target 28 yards away, in that moment saying more about the nature of his talent than the most lengthy analysis could ever have done.

The interview took place in the run-up to the Chiefs' AFC play-off game against the Indianapolis Colts which was going to be the biggest game of Mahomes' life so far, yet he had no worries about chatting away with King and even sharing a trade secret. A few days later he steered the Chiefs to a 31-13 victory.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Tipperary goalkeeper Brian Hogan was appearing at a promotional event for the Fitzgibbon Cup competition. Hogan told journalists he'd been forbidden to speak about Tipperary by new manager Liam Sheedy.

Compare and contrast, as they used to say on the Leaving Cert paper.

The obvious implication to be drawn from the vow of silence imposed on young Hogan is that even though it's four months before they play a championship game, Tipperary's planning is at such an advanced stage that even accidentally divulging the smallest detail could prove fatal. Of course anyone who really believes this would be clinically deluded.

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In his own frequent media appearances, Sheedy hasn't seemed particularly paranoid or delusional. So perhaps there's another explanation for his current Trappist policy.

There is. It's founded on the pretence that an inter-county team is a mechanism so finely calibrated that the slightest derogation from the will of the manager can throw it completely askew. So while Patrick Mahomes, an infinitely talented athlete, can cheerfully chew the fat with journalists the week of a big game, Premier County hurlers can't take a risk like that. There's too much at stake.

It takes enormous levels of self-importance for a manager to believe something like this. But that's rarely a problem for the lads in charge of county teams. Control freakery of the type evident at that Fitzgibbon Cup press conference serves the ego of the management rather than the needs of the players. Liam Sheedy is not unusual, there will be plenty more episodes like this throughout the GAA season.

The difference between the way the NFL and the GAA do business has nothing to do with nationality. No sportsmen have a more refreshing attitude towards media relations than jockeys, who often come from the same kind of background as inter-county players. They'll chat with reporters as they're getting their horses ready for the start and as they're being led in after the finish. There's never an ounce of resentment or self-pity about these men and women who do a job which is demanding and dangerous in a way that hurling and football never are.

In the end it just comes down to a question of good manners. That and the realisation that media bans don't really make much difference to journalists. The people you let down are your own fans, they're the ones who'd like to read a few lines about how Tipperary are motoring this weather.

Tonight, Patrick Mahomes takes on the greatest quarterback of all-time, Tom Brady, as the Chiefs bid to defeat perennial powerhouses the New England Patriots in the AFC title game and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. He'll have to overcome not just Brady but the weather, with temperatures of around -15 centigrade forecast for the Arrowhead Stadium.

The game kicks off at 11.40pm our time. It'll be brilliant. Don't miss it.

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