Saturday 24 February 2018

John Greene: Armagh deserve far more than a petty vow of silence

Lar Corbett, Tipperary
Lar Corbett, Tipperary
John Greene

John Greene

Furore around media ban has overshadowed Armagh's excellence.

In September 2010, an extended interview with Lar Corbett was published in this paper on the day of the All-Ireland hurling final. In the build-up to the match, Corbett had given freely of his time to Damian Lawlor and photographer Gerry Mooney and spoken openly about his life and career to that point.

One remark stood out at the time. "We're going up today knowing the work is done and we'll play what's in front of us. There's not an ounce of pressure there." What was in front of them, of course, was a Kilkenny team bidding to make history by winning five All-Irelands in a row, a team widely hailed as the greatest of all time. No pressure.

That final four years ago 
became one of the great finals of the modern era, and Corbett was its star man, scoring a remarkable hat-trick and being named as the Hurler of the Year. His candid 
interview in that day's paper, which appeared under the headline 'It's what you gave your whole life to', had not cursed Corbett and reduced him to the role of a bit-part player on hurling's biggest day. No pressure.

Dealing with the media is not for everyone. It certainly doesn't come easy to a lot of people. Those players that are comfortable talking to journalists, and giving interviews, do not let it impact on their preparation for big games. Others, though, dread it; they are nervous in the spotlight and would sooner run up and down every hill in the county than stand in front of a microphone. And others, well they just don't trust journalists . . . and sometimes it's hard to blame them. GAA folklore is full of stories of dressing room walls pasted with newspaper articles which spurred a team 'to prove their critics wrong'.

Armagh have been striving all summer to prove their critics wrong. From before a ball was kicked in their championship campaign, they have been a team on a mission, smarting from disappointing defeats last year, first to Cavan in Ulster and then later to Galway in the qualifiers.

Their focus from a long way out was on beating Cavan in Ulster. Sadly, though, a reference point for their season for many will be those scenes before that game with Cavan in the Athletic Grounds. All that has followed 
for Armagh since - good and 
bad - has its root in one way 
or another from those seconds 
of madness in June.

The good has been very good: coming so close to dethroning reigning Ulster champions Monaghan, and really impressive wins over Tyrone, Roscommon and Meath. Indeed, Armagh were superb in that win over Meath last weekend in horrendous conditions, with superb displays in particular by Andy Mallon and Stefan Campbell.

The tragedy for Armagh 
football is that after last night most people will remember the bad stuff more, and for this the team management must take some of the blame, although 
ultimately it is the county board who are responsible.

The pre-match row was one thing; it shouldn't have happened but it did, and once it did, then punishments were inevitable. Despite Armagh's protestations, there was nothing unfair or heavy-handed about the 
punishments meted out, a 
€5,000 fine and suspensions 
for three players.

Armagh's response was inappropriate. Of course, they were entitled to appeal, but where was the leadership in accepting that the county deserved to be punished for its part in the row? What would Armagh's board do if similar scenes happened before the start of its county final?

In ways, this will be a year 
of regrets. They were within 
a whisker of reaching an All-
Ireland semi-final. You could argue that poor discipline 
proved very costly last night. 
This is where leadership off the pitch plays a part.

And then there was the media ban, supposedly a reaction to some of the commentary on the saga, but which just came across as petty and childish. Even Oisín McConville said last week that it had gone to "a ridiculous level".

My suspicion is that the majority of people who follow the GAA don't particularly care if a county invokes a media ban, and let's be honest, they are right. Who cares if a team talks to journalists or not? (And those journalists out there who were hoping Armagh would be beaten last night 
because of it, cop on.)

Armagh could have quietly gone about their business this summer. They could have made a decision not to talk to the media and just got on with their football. There are a lot of counties who keep their contact with journalists to the bare minimum, and they do it subtly. Armagh looked like fools, letting Kevin Dyas travel to Croke Park but not letting him speak, agreeing to stage a press conference last week and then cancelling it a few hours beforehand . . . silly stuff. The clever teams say nothing, they don't go on about the fact that they are saying nothing.

Paul Grimley's call last night for the GAA to regulate the media will raise a lot of eyebrows, given that the Association can't even keep many of its own county boards in check.

What a pity that the abiding images of Armagh's summer for many will be the scenes before the Cavan game, and the picture doing the rounds last week of Grimley striding past Newstalk's rain-sodden sideline reporter, Colm Parkinson, and refusing to speak to him about his side's great win.

For the work they have put in, and for the performances they have given, Armagh's players really deserved better.

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