Saturday 7 December 2019

Silence not so golden for Armagh

Armagh and Cavan players clash befpore their Ulster SFC quarter-final clash. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Armagh and Cavan players clash befpore their Ulster SFC quarter-final clash. Photo: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

When the rather bizarre decision was taken by the GAA in 2011 to appoint a non-speaking captain in Stephen Cluxton to lead Ireland's team for the International Rules series in Australia, vice-captain Ciaran McKeever carried out the media duties.

The Armagh man did it well, even if he must have wondered why he carried the responsibility while the captain remained silent.

Now, McKeever is Armagh captain and is no doubt willing to engage with the media as required. However, his communication skills are redundant at present because Paul Grimley and his management team have imposed a code of silence.

They are angry over coverage of the pre-match bust-up with Cavan in the Ulster quarter-final and have responded with a media blackout, except for a few carefully chosen outlets.

Presumably, the censorship committee met at length to consider strategy before settling on the ultimate in childishness – a surly "we're not talking" edict. Of course, the ban also impacts on their own people but then there's always collateral damage wherever clumsy sanctions are imposed.

Despite the absence of assorted gems from the Armagh camp, the sporting world continued to rotate on its axis for the past few weeks.

In fact, the ban was regarded as nothing more than a wearisome aside until Armagh raised the stakes on Monday by despatching one of their players to Croke Park on an important mission.

"Be seen but not heard," was presumably the steely instruction for Kevin Dyas before he set out to represent Armagh at a GAA-organised media event to promote next weekend's games.

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So once Dyas had posed for pictures, he left Croke Park without uttering a single word. Mission accomplished for Armagh – he had been seen but not heard.

No blame whatsoever attaches to Dyas. He was merely carrying out instructions, albeit of a comical nature, where he attended a media function without functioning with the media.

It was as contradictory as an episode of 'Only Fools and Horses' in which Del Boy sends his hapless brother Rodney down the market to sell water-damaged umbrellas and heat-damaged fire extinguishers.

What on earth are Armagh at?

If they are so unhappy with the world, why agree to send a representative to a media event run by the GAA?

Of course, Croke Park isn't exactly flavour of the summer in the Orchard because of how the pre-parade row was processed.

Even if Armagh have some justification for their anger, attacking the messenger or the host isn't the most mature response. If they feel wronged, explain it. Name the media people whom you think have been unfair on Armagh.

Shun them if you wish but don't paint the vast majority with the same brush, including those who made no comment on the pre-parade incident or subsequent sanctions.

Armagh took their share of criticism in the media – much of it unfair – during the glory days under Joe Kernan but he never resorted to the blanket-ban approach.

No, he fought the Armagh corner resolutely, challenging those whom he felt were unfair while continuing to talk to everybody. He did his job, which apart from working flat-out to give his team every chance of winning, was to present Armagh in the best possible light.

There now appears to be a ridiculous assumption that Armagh's progressive championship campaign so far (three wins, a draw, a defeat) is reinforced by a siege mentality, arising from the first-round controversy.

Is that the best available analysis in an era when we're led to believe that team preparation is as sophisticated as a space exploration mission?

Armagh are one of seven counties from the final 12 in the All-Ireland race who spent last spring in Division 2 so it's scarcely a huge surprise that they have got this far.

The can now reach the All-Ireland quarter-final by ousting Meath, whom they already beat in the league. They had no 'siege mentality' issues last spring, yet beat Meath by three points in Navan.

Meanwhile, back in Camp Silent, are the Armagh County Board so spineless that they will allow a charade like last Monday's to go unchallenged?

Ultimately, they are responsible for how the county is represented and, however it's dressed up, having a player at a media event who won't speak reflects badly on them. If they don't care, they should.


AFL star Hanley shows Mayo what they're missing

If James Horan happens to be awake at 4.10 next Sunday morning, his thoughts might well ramble to the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, where a man who could make such a difference to Mayo in their bid to win an All-Ireland title will be lining up with Brisbane Lions for their clash with Melbourne.

Pearce Hanley, who made his senior championship debut with Mayo as an 18-year old in 2007, is enjoying a great season with the Lions.

Hanley headed for Australia to try his luck in the AFL at the end of that season and is now one of Brisbane's top stars.

Man of the match in their big win over Gold Coast last weekend, he scored two goals, made three others and came close to establishing an AFL record for the most metres gained. Tantalisingly for Mayo as they search for that added forward dimension, Hanley (25) wears the No 11 jersey.

He will be driving at the Melbourne defence in the early hours of next Sunday morning when he might so easily be with the Mayo team as they get their sleep ahead of the Cork game. The thought of it might be enough to keep Horan awake.


Massive spread of quality defies the 'divide'

So much for so-called 'divide' between Division 1A and 1B of the Allianz Hurling League.

Cork and Limerick plied their trade in 1B last spring, yet have joined Kilkenny and Tipperary from 1A in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Wexford (1B) beat Clare and Waterford (both 1A) in the qualifiers, while Laois (1B) came within two points of Galway (1A) in the Leinster semi-final. Offaly (1B) took a double-tanking from Kilkenny and Tipperary (1A) but then Brian Whelahan's crew finished outside the top four in the second grouping, leaving them 11th overall in what is a difficult time for the county.

A final thought. Much of the reaction to last Sunday's one-sided quarter-finals has been way over the top.

Hurling has enjoyed a massive spread of quality and drama over the past year so one disappointing day should not be exaggerated into something it isn't.

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