If you were to believe some of last week's newspapers, you'd think Tadhg Kennelly had been blackguarded by the Sunday Independent.
The controversy arose out of the extract from Kennelly's 'autobiography' Unfinished Business, published last week by Mercier Press in which he said he had planned to "charge in and hit someone at the start" of the All-Ireland final. The Kerry player went on to detail how his "eyes were almost rolling around in the back of my head. I was like a raging bull. We were like a totally different fucking animal. After a few strides I knew I'd timed it just right. Cork's Nicholas Murphy had just turned slightly towards me which opened the way for my shoulder to catch him perfectly on the chin. Cop that. It's different this time, boys."
This admission that a foul regarded by many people, including for example the RTE panellists on the day, as a red-card offence was premeditated drew adverse comment last week. Kerry manager Jack O'Connor was among those who expressed his disappointment.
It wasn't surprising that Kennelly felt he had some explaining to do. The only problem is that in his explanation the player presented himself as victim and seemed to suggest that the Sunday Independent behaved improperly. This simply isn't true, which is why it's worth explaining the background to the running of the extract.
For starters, this wasn't a case of this newspaper getting hold of the book and casting around for sensational material to put a player in a bad light. Publishers Mercier Press actually came to us and asked if we'd run an extract for a fee. This is common practice in publishing and is done in the hope of boosting sales. We were offered a choice of two extracts, one of which was not particularly exciting and the other of which was Kennelly's account of All-Ireland final day. When Mercier were told we'd be running the latter extract, they were delighted. They'd described the extract to us as 'explosive'. In other words, they knew full well it would cause controversy and were delighted about this.
Tadhg Kennelly says that "at no stage did I know the extract was going in the paper. No one told me." If this is true, then Mercier Press go about their business in a very strange way. You'd imagine it would have occurred to someone to tell the star of their biggest book of the year that they'd managed to place an extract in a national newspaper. Apart from anything else, he'd be entitled to a cut of the serialisation money. He should take this up with his publisher.
The Listowel man seems to imply that the Sunday Independent indulged in sharp practice when publishing the extract. He says: "The words 'while I hadn't wanted to come in and seriously injure anyone I was determined to make a statement' were not included in the extract from the book even though this sentence followed on. That one line would have clarified my intentions, but it was not included in the piece. I cannot believe this happened. The piece was totally unbalanced due to the omission."
Well, there's one simple reason why the words 'while I hadn't wanted to come in and seriously injure anyone I was determined to make a statement,' weren't in the Sunday Independent last week. We didn't know of their existence. The Sunday Independent wasn't working from a copy of the book, which had not been published yet. We were given a number of pages by Mercier Press and consent only to publish those pages, and no others. Those pages ended with the words 'cop that'. The paragraph which followed on from that was on a page we didn't get. Once again it's some- thing Tadhg Kennelly should take up with Mercier Press.
In any event, do the words, 'while I hadn't wanted to come in and seriously injure anyone I was determined to make a statement,' add all that much to the piece? Nobody is suggesting that Tadhg Kennelly wanted to seriously injure Nicholas Murphy. But anyone who saw the game witnessed a cheap and ugly shot on the Cork midfielder. Kennelly admits now "it was my first All-Ireland final and I was very emotional. Maybe too much so".
It's not surprising that Kennelly is embarrassed about the foul on Murphy. It was not only out of tune with the great traditions of Kerry football, it was totally out of character for the player. Tadhg Kennelly was a joy to watch as Kerry regained the Sam Maguire this year. His game appeared completely untarnished by the sometimes cynical ethos of the world of Australian rules football in which he had earned his living for the past decade. We expected to see a player whose main attributes would be the strength and fitness which resulted from years as a professional sportsman. Instead we saw a man who relied on the time-honoured Kingdom virtues of skill and intelligence.
He was, it appears, somewhat less skilful and intelligent when dealing with his 'autobiography,' which was actually ghost written by an Australian sports journalist with the euphonious name of Scotty Gullan. "I should never have allowed the piece regarding the incident with Nicholas to be described in the fashion it was . . . I gave an interview to the Australian ghost writer Scotty Gallon (sic) just a couple of days after the All-Ireland. I didn't read it over as I should have . . . I should have read a proof of the finished chapter. I didn't and I paid the price. My fault 100 per cent."
The problem seems to have arisen from the fact that most sporting 'autobiographies' are actually written by journalists. Kennelly was stone daft not to have checked what was going to be published under his name. But the Sunday Independent, or anyone else, couldn't know that he hadn't done this. We're not mindreaders. If we're told a book is Tadhg Kennelly's autobiography, we're entitled to believe that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Similarly, Scotty Gullan can hardly be blamed for thinking that Kennelly had no problem with his account of the incident if the player hadn't asked for it to be changed. The buck stopped with the player.
Tadhg Kennelly is a great footballer and admirable sportsman. But he was silly to nail Nicholas Murphy in the opening seconds of the All-Ireland final. He was silly to let his autobiography include a passage where he seemed to glory in that foul. And he was sillier still to try and blame the Sunday Independent for his own mistakes.
I don't know what it's like to play in your first All-Ireland final but I do know what it's like to wake up and find out people are outraged by something you've written. Sometimes that can be tough to deal with, as it was for Tadhg Kennelly last week. And sometimes you can wish that you hadn't written the piece which brings abuse showering down upon you. But once your words are down on the page in black and white, they cannot be denied. Like it or not, you have to stand over them. That's what Tadhg Kennelly found out last week and it seems to have been an unnerving experience for him. In trying to use this newspaper as a scapegoat, he did something he would never have done on the pitch. He took the easy way out.
We'll forgive him because he's a young man and young men sometimes do and say foolish things. And we won't be telling him to 'cop that'. But it might be no harm if he copped on.