Thursday 19 April 2018

Colm O'Rourke: The GAA president should be above making The Sunday Game more important that it is

Aogán Ó Fearghail has decided, like Tyrone, to avoid the issues and shoot the messenger
Aogán Ó Fearghail has decided, like Tyrone, to avoid the issues and shoot the messenger
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

When Aogán ó Fearghail branded The Sunday Game as 'tiresome' he should have cut his losses at that.

Maybe it is, and that is his subjective assessment. The show creates debate, arouses some controversy and deals with issues without fear or favour. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong. Viewers are not switching off, over three-quarters of a million were watching last Sunday, which is a huge figure. If that were transferred pro rata to Britain, it would be about ten million; the BBC would kill for a programme like that.

The GAA president then railed against its consistent negativity. I did not realise that part of my role was to be a propaganda officer for the GAA. When games are bad, like most have been this summer, I will say they were bad. When we have a good match, like Kerry and Tyrone, then I will be first to recognise that also. What does the president want? Poodles to glorify the great organisation? Most people will recognise the silliness of his comments in this regard.

However, if those musings could be dismissed as playing to the gallery then his comments about Tyrone, the press and the upcoming negotiations between the GAA and RTé need to be seriously challenged. He took exception to my comment about controversy following Tyrone around this year like a bad smell. This term was used in the context of various issues arising in their minor, under 21 and senior teams. ó Fearghail has decided, like Tyrone, to avoid the issues and shoot the messenger over a turn of phrase. What about a comment on the disgraceful scenes in the Monaghan-Tyrone game, the diving, feigning injury, sledging or interference from the sideline? The culprit is The Sunday Game for highlighting it.

He also feels that Ulster teams get too much bad press and can understand how Tyrone are aggrieved. He is quoted as saying, "Now they have started to do well (Ulster teams ), then there's a little bit of edge to some commentary". He also made reference to the "southern media", where some of the criticism comes from. What a stupid insulting thing to say which only reinforces the bunker mentality displayed by Tyrone. If the president is saying it, it must be true.

For a president of the GAA to use a term like the "southern media" indicates a serious lack of sense, common or otherwise. It is a signal insult to all the professional journalists who work in the media, who love the GAA and who comment on it without caring what province a county is from. Does the president really think that if any other county carried on like Tyrone that they would be treated any differently in the press or on The Sunday Game? If the answer is yes, that's even more worrying. I have no doubt that if Dublin, Mayo or Kerry involved themselves in the type of conduct which both Monaghan and Tyrone were at, the reaction would be the same.

The journalists who write for the national papers, those who work for radio and TV stations have not joined forces on some anti-Ulster platform. What they do is tell the truth. Meath have got their share of bad press down the years, especially the team I played on. Nobody cried about it being an anti-Leinster thing. The Dubs get an even bigger share of criticism, yet I can't recall any president feeling the need to come to their aid.

Then the coup de grace was the veiled threat - or maybe not even veiled - that RTé could suffer when the TV rights are being negotiated next year. Maybe he may feel that Sky should get more games. A recent hurling game on Sky attracted viewing figures of 0.01 per cent of the available audience. In other words, nobody was watching. Maybe he thinks it is right that pensioners had to be ferried around by bus and taxi in Donegal and Mayo to watch the All-Ireland quarter-final. Who is doing a better job at promoting the GAA? Maybe ó Fearghail could give RTé some credit.

A president should have bigger things to sort out than The Sunday Game. Like the CCCC, which brought Tiernan McCann in with a charge that could never stick, and which allowed Tyrone to seize upon this unfair charge and the comments I made to create a siege mentality while ignoring any of the other serious issues raised. The president has backed them now so why should Tyrone have to take a good look at themselves?

He could also have a word with the Central Hearings Committee, which allowed Kevin Keane of Mayo off the hook for a striking offence against Donegal, citing not enough evidence. He can now play today against Dublin. This reversal by the CHC totally undermined referee David Gough who made the correct decision. A deafening silence from the president on this one too.

Sometimes the truth is hard to accept. I know the price of telling it like it is on The Sunday Game. It meant abuse, insult, and the threat of physical confrontation from Tyrone supporters before, during and after last Sunday's game. But I also believe that highlighting what happened in the Tyrone-Monaghan game made life easier for referee Maurice Deegan last Sunday and contributed to a good match. At the time I thought Tyrone should have had a penalty but it was a brave decision by the referee not to give it, and maybe he was right.

The GAA president should be above making The Sunday Game more important that it is. The opinions expressed by any panellist are just that and are no more valid than those of the man in the street. Yet pointing out foul play will not stop, however uncomfortable that is for those involved.

The president had an opportunity to back that honesty up, even if he strongly disagreed with the way it was said. Unfortunately, he chose to reinforce prejudice and instead of a clear statement on discipline he ignored the greater good of the GAA and pandered to the constituency who got him elected. As for The Sunday Game which causes him such grief, there is a simple solution, don't watch it.

* * * * *

When I heard about Aidan O'Shea donning the Superman outfit and getting the hair done, I thought that you don't need to be giving hostages to fortune. Especially as he has not won anything - well that's not exactly true as he has a pocketful of Connacht medals, but you know what I mean.

He might as well have put his poster on O'Connell Street as Facebook: 'I'm coming to get you.' He better live up to it now or the first to question his big match build-up will be Mayo supporters. Downtown Breaffy is a hard enough place to hide out.

Of course it never did Muhammad Ali any harm when he told everyone what he was going to do and it is common practice in American football but this is still slightly-Catholic Ireland so discretion is the better part of valour. Maybe O'Shea will give a Superman performance and it is probably going to be needed but it is better to keep your powder (and hair) dry.

Aidan O Shea has been a key man for Mayo but maybe he is not the best player in Mayo, maybe not even the best in his own house. Seamus O'Shea has been excellent and his foot-passing has helped set up plenty of scores for all the forwards. In fact, Mayo have seven or eight players who are as good if not better than there is in any other county. The top seven for me are Higgins, Keegan, Boyle, O'Shea by two, Cillian O'Connor and Tom Parsons, who has been groomed for this day for 10 years.

Dublin have none better than this group and will probably want to rely on the early blitz which, in fairness, crushes most teams. But it did not work at this stage last year and this is Dublin's first proper championship match since.

There is some evidence that Dublin are more conservative and won't ship goals as easy with Cian O'Sullivan hanging back. Against Westmeath and Fermanagh, there were signs of just taking it easy when the game was over rather than running up a big score. There is less flash - the motto has changed and it's now about getting the job done.

Dublin will rely on Cluxton's kick-outs and Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly to mop up plenty of ball. The other go-to man is Bernard Brogan and if Mayo can clamp down on Dublin's three most important outfield players, then there will be thousands of pilgrims on Croagh Patrick in early September while the stall holders in Knock will do a roaring trade.

Jack McCaffrey is another key man for Dublin, with O'Sullivan hanging back he can attack at will. Mayo need a disciplined runner on him. This looks like it could be more of an old-style football match than anything we have seen so far and O'Shea versus O'Carroll will be a war not a battle.

This should be a very enjoyable contest and I think Mayo have the all-round power to do it, but Superman may need Batman and Robin.

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