Sunday 21 January 2018

You just can't fool all GAA people all of the time

THEY'RE coming out of the woodwork again. You'll hear them every year at this time, as regular as the daffodils peeping their heads out of the ground at the first sign of spring's warmth. The marketing men.

We don't mean the men who do the marketing, we mean the men who wonder where the men who are supposed to be doing the marketing are.

The National Leagues spark them to action. They wonder why the GAA isn't more proactive in marketing the leagues. It is after all, they will argue, a national competition. The secondary (of two) national competitions. Yielding in prestige only to the nation's number one national competition, the championship.

It's no wonder, they bleat, that people don't turn up in huge numbers on a dismal Sunday afternoon to watch 30 sleepy soldiers of the sod slug it out for a couple of points. Sure where was the marketing?

Marketing, they insist, is the cure for all the GAA's ills. And in a way they're right. But they ignore one vital detail: You can't fool all of the people all of the time. And sometimes you can't even fool some of the people.

And that's what they mean by marketing when it comes to the National Leagues. Fooling people. Those who know Gaelic games know that the Leagues, particularly the early rounds, are of little consequence. So they go if they want to see something or someone in particular. A new player they've heard about, or a new manager whose sideline manner they want to witness in person.

This can be of great value later in the year. There is no better feeling for a supporter than to be able to turn to his companions at the height of summer and speak with authority about a player who is new to them but familiar to you because you saw him in the League. But do you go to be entertained? Hardly. You know it'll be too cold to be standing around when you could be snoozing in front of either the fire or the telly. Or both.

So the marketing man's job is to fool you, as a casual GAA supporter, into thinking that going to a League match is a good idea. Not only that, but you should drag the kids along so that they can see their favourite stars in the flesh.

This takes no account of the fact that their favourite stars, if they're in the country at all, are not match-fit and look a lot less appealing without the tan and the championship haircut. Anyway, marketing is completely against the nature of GAA people. Anti-marketing is the way of the Gael.

Take Pat Gilroy's post-match interview after his Dublin footballers beat Kerry in Kerry for the first time in 28 years. A moment for wild celebration, you may imagine, a marketing man's dream.

Pat was having none of it. Every answer began with the words. 'Ah look.'

'A great win, Pat?'

'Ah look, it's only February.'

'Still, you must be pleased?'

'Ah look, it's only the League.'

That sort of thing. Anti-marketing.

And it will get better as the year develops with managers and players falling over themselves to convince the public that Sunday's match will be so one-sided (in favour of the opposition of course) that it is hardly worth anybody's time turning up to witness the slaughter.

They will do this despite the fact that they may be enjoying their best year for a long time. Previous performances will be dismissed as lucky, followed by the earnest insistence that failure to improve a thousand fold by the next day will result in nothing short of annihilation.

The watching Gaelic games enthusiasts are, of course, up to their tricks. They don't need a marketing man to tell them when there's a game worth watching and by the same token, they won't be thrown off the scent by an anti-marketing man.

Anyway, if marketing produces the sort of crap that Sky Sports come up with when they want you to believe that a nothing Premiership match is of vital importance to the future of the human race, then you can keep it.

If the GAA, or the county boards or the managers or the players, want more people to watch National League games then they must make them more interesting. Not hire someone to tell us they are interesting, actually make them more interesting.

This will not happen until those players and managers decide that they want to win the competition And decide that before the first game, not when they find themselves in the final. And that will never happen.

So let's be happy with what we've got. Two great games and a watching public intelligent enough to distinguish between the diamante and the diamond. Sometimes you can spend a fortune looking for a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Fergus McDonnell

Sunday Independent

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