Sunday 17 December 2017

Tomás Ó Sé: Jim Gavin is one of the most polished operators in the GAA but I felt that aura dimmed last weekend

Jim Gavin got it badly wrong this time – not something anybody can say about him too often. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile
Jim Gavin got it badly wrong this time – not something anybody can say about him too often. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

I've been struggling to get Paddy Russell's notebook out of my head this week as the Diarmuid Connolly circus grew fresh legs. In a GAA life, it's easy to feel victimised and, nine years ago in Kerry, we pretty much believed that Paul Galvin had been fed to the wolves.

You'll remember that, initially, Paul got a six-month suspension for the GBH inflicted on that famous piece of GAA stationery. He was our captain at the time and I remember watching The Sunday Game the night of that incident and sensing immediately that the coverage was a witch-hunt.

Paul's suspension was eventually cut in half, but the whole thing had a really draconian feel from the perspective of a team-mate.

And a comment that really stayed with me was one attributed to a linesman that day, something along the lines of there being no such thing as common sense for officials, only rules. It strikes me that only somebody who never played the game could adhere to that kind of philosophy. Because if common sense has no place in the adjudication of GAA matters, then we might as well be dealing with stocks and bonds, not people.

So I could understand the emotion of Jim Gavin's outburst last Sunday, just not the logic.

I felt for Connolly watching The Sunday Game after the Dubs' clash with Carlow. I just didn't think that the incident merited the hullabaloo. The analysis seemed a little heavy-handed to me because, as I've said before, what Connolly did might have been many things, but I didn't interpret it as threatening.

So I wouldn't have gone in as hard on him as Pat Spillane and Colm O'Rourke did that night, but I certainly wouldn't have gone down the route Gavin went last Sunday either.

One thing I will say as a Sunday Game panellist is that there is zero editorial interference before a broadcast. Nobody ever tries to plant an opinion in your head, but you do feel the need to be clear and strong in what you communicate. It's live television, a huge audience. When the red light comes on, you need to know exactly what it is that you're going to say.

More than that, you need to believe in it. I always try to go with my gut feeling and, whether I'm right or wrong, the important thing is that I never feel I'm just reciting what I think people want to hear, irrespective of my own opinion.

I certainly like to think I have empathy for players. After all, I'm not long out of the bearpit myself and I was no angel. So I know how unfair it can feel to be an amateur sportsman having yourself scrutinised in such detail on national television.

But you have to call an incident as you see it too and, sometimes, that's going to get under people's skin

Connolly is one of the best players in the game, but also one of the most controversial. It means that any incident involving him now generates a commotion that mightn't be the case with lower-profile individuals.

And I get an impression now that Gavin has a low enough opinion of the media generally, something that might have been factored into his decision-making last Sunday. Mickey Harte doesn't talk to RTE, but that's a decision based on personal issues with the national broadcaster.

In Jim's case, his refusal to allow one-to-one broadcast interviews after the Westmeath slaughter might have related to a broader sense of grievance with the coverage of his team.

I certainly doubt that it was a specific reaction to Pat Spillane.

Now, maybe, he interpreted Pat's words as some kind of Kerry-Dublin thing brewing, and Joe Brolly certainly seemed happy to feed that fire last weekend. But to me it's nonsense.

And, even if that's Jim's read on things, my opinion is still that he was ridiculously over the top last Sunday. I've always considered him one of the most polished operators in the GAA today. Last weekend, I just felt that aura dimmed.

Across the years, we've all tried to be clever in our dealings with media and - if we're honest - that effort to be clever amounts to an attempt to manipulate. We like to control the message, even if it's only in sending out players for interview who we know will serve up empty platitudes, no matter the questions coming.

But consider this. Any Dublin footballer put forward for interview now is going to be sick and tired of being asked about Diarmuid Connolly. That's just not clever. The Connolly story was dead in the water last Sunday morning.

By Sunday evening, it was everywhere again.

And I don't necessarily buy that line of looking to create a siege mentality in the group. Connolly is a special player who can do special things, but he also puts the team in jeopardy at times. At some point, other players in the squad might just be becoming tired of the negative focus another Connolly story brings. Which means the idea of "doing it for Diarmuid" seems a little idealistic to me.

It's just as likely some members of the Dublin group are thoroughly fed up with this. There's more heat coming on them now because of a player who won't be in a position to offer them any support on the field this side of an All-Ireland semi-final. That heat is entirely unnecessary. And it's coming straight from their own manager.

By the way, I believe The Sunday Game does impact on the Central Competitions Control Committee, even if only in the subconscious. I know their chairman George Cartwright denied this on radio last Monday morning, but what else could he say?

Bottom line, the greater the TV focus on a game, the greater the scrutiny of their decision-making. If they can honestly remain immune to the pressure that scrutiny brings, all I can say is that they are remarkable people.

So I do get the idea that TV coverage can carry undue weight in the disciplinary world but, to me, Jim Gavin went on a solo-run last Sunday. I certainly doubt he was doing what he did on anybody's advice.

One of his arguments seemed to be that pundits should desist from commenting on any incident until all due process within the disciplinary system has been exhausted. Seriously Jim? That's utterly ridiculous. Maybe he'd like to ban TV from showing action replays of anything controversial then until the CCCC are finished their work.

I think he got it badly wrong this time. And, in fairness, that's not something anybody has been able to say about him too often.


I notice Cork being quoted at 11/2 to beat Kerry in Killarney tomorrow, a huge price for a Munster final. They're odds that will be making Eamonn Fitzmaurice a little queasy because, no matter how poorly Cork are ever going, they'll always fancy themselves to give the Kingdom a serious rattle.

And I was far from convinced by Kerry's semi-final performance against Clare. One big thing conspicuously lacking in Eamonn's team at the moment is consistency.

The form of the National League final, specifically the counter-attacking play from half-back, just hasn't carried through. And Clare opened Kerry up a few times in a way that, with more clinical finishing, could have been problematic.

Kerry, I believe, will win. But not by a big margin. Because there are two faces to Cork football, both seen in their semi-final defeat of Tipperary. They were abject in the opening half, shocking. Then they came out in the second, looking a completely different team.

What happened in the dressing-room? Rumour has it that the players took control of things, just went out and played the game as they saw it.

It's a huge thing for Kerry that they haven't lost a Championship game in Killarney for many years and that'll be a part of the motivation for Fitzmaurice here.

It was great to see James O'Donoghue flying again against Clare too, but there are still issues around the midfield. And I hope Kerry are more direct in how they play because I absolutely hate this lateral passing they sometimes engage in.

It's not good enough just to play direct against Dublin and go round the houses against everybody else. One thing I like about the Dubs is that they always go for the jugular. Whether that's running directly or kicking directly, they never look like a team passing the ball just for the sake of it.

If I was a Kerry footballer today, I'd be very wary of this game. And I've been so critical of this Cork team that I ended up almost feeling sorry for them. You see, there's just no way of reconciling the talent I see in Cork football with the performances of their county team. There still seem to be huge leadership issues there because too often, they look a completely lifeless, soul-less group.

But they'll relish this crack at Kerry given bookies' odds that have them down as road-kill. That makes them dangerous.

Just not dangerous enough to win.

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