Monday 9 December 2019

'The media never stopped any team winning a championship and it will be a wildly eccentric day when they do'

Armagh manager Paul Grimley gestures during his team's draw against Monaghan. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Armagh manager Paul Grimley gestures during his team's draw against Monaghan. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Not long after Cork beat Kilkenny in the '99 All-Ireland hurling final, Jimmy Barry-Murphy was invited to drive a stake through the heart of his critics.

In the dressing-room, a local journalist put it to him that victory would be the perfect riposte to those who, earlier in the year, "had written Cork off". And Jimmy just smiled a smile of perfect equanimity, answering simply that maybe Cork had given people every reason to be dismissive of their chances.

It was a gloriously elegant moment from a man who could impart that quality to a mud wrestle.

You could but imagine the emotions bubbling up inside him that day. This was Barry-Murphy's fourth championship as Cork manager, a stretch through which he had been subjected to criticism he considered unnecessarily personal. Immediately after returning to the dressing-room, the old Cork trainer Ted Owens handed him a photograph of his distraught management team from Pairc Ui Chaoimh three years previously. Jimmy's first game in charge had decanted a terrible hiding from Limerick.

The photograph was offered as a reminder of the epic journey taken.

It's fair to assume that the emotional sterility of a press box often leaves the media impervious to the human trials underpinning a big championship day. But this is as it should be as a media intimate with the small print of any team's story will, almost inevitably, become subjective in its coverage.

Barry-Murphy had the intelligence and, maybe more pertinently, class to understand this in '99. Not everyone does.

A GAA heart beats fast and wild and, sometimes, grown men get drawn into territories that unduly stretch them. The tiniest of parishes can ignite the hottest of flames, tattooing the Monday sports pages with violent snapshots of loyalty to place.

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We take it as a part of GAA life, squabbles aired, punches thrown, people losing themselves in anger.

Aggression is so innate to hurling and Gaelic football, it often seeps out. In such a climate, victory emboldens people. Actually, not even victory. Achievement of any hue can trigger an exaggerated reaction.

Hence the pale, anonymous forward who kicks a point suddenly morphs into a fist-clenching Jim Larkin. Or the struggling midfielder who wins a free bounces to his feet like a stag hungry for the rutting season. Nerves get pared to nothing on big championship days, so manners get forgotten.

It's doubtful if the footballers of Cavan or Armagh have any interest in how sadly childish their brawl in that Ulster championship pre-match parade looked from a neutral corner.

Both sides were "wired" as we like to put it. In other words, both were programmed for war.

The pathetic spectacle of band members running for cover as two teams brawled was one you certainly wouldn't choose for Sky Sports cameras to broadcast to the wider world. A good proportion of inter-county players today are third-level students so it isn't unreasonable to assume that quite a few of those involved were of above average intelligence. Quite what they thought when looking at the pictures afterwards, we can but imagine.

But Armagh took issue with the suspensions handed down and appealed in vain.

Thus, when their depleted team surprisingly drew with Monaghan last Sunday, Paul Grimley – who had bizarrely declared the brawl "blown out of all proportion" long before anyone had a chance to blow at all – decided to enact a media ban.

I have never met Paul but, until now, he came across as a bright, humble figure, almost too willing to take the public flak for Armagh's struggles on his watch. Now, after a draw with Monaghan, he rails against "hysterical reporting" and chooses to pull the shutters down. It is as if the avoidance of defeat last weekend has, somehow, empowered him to lash out against an imagined enemy.

But the media never stopped any team winning a championship and it will be a wildly eccentric day when they do.

Shooting the messenger was already a jaded reflex 15 years ago. Today? It looks plain stupid.


Reds could teach Lovren a timely lesson

Even accepting that professional football is a moral wasteland, the speculation that Croatian defender Dejan Lovren is planning strike action against Southampton offers yet another irresistible symbol of an industry awash with gall.

Lovren, reputedly, wants to follow former team-mates Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert to Liverpool. He believes a bid of £20m has been turned down despite the laughable concept of "a gentleman's agreement" being in place to release him if that price is met.

Lovren, we are told, is now "prepared to stay away" from Southampton's pre-season training to force the issue.

You would like to think this kind of story might be disquieting to Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool. Lovren, after all, is just 18 months into a four-year contract. He clearly believes himself to be in precisely the position Luis Suarez was when Arsenal tried prising him away from Liverpool last summer.

The asset-stripping of Southampton has been one of the more unsettling stories of this window with Luke Shaw having joined Manchester United, Morgan Schneiderlin – apparently – wanted by Arsenal and Spurs, and even the injured Jay Rodriguez considered odds-on to make a summer move.

Liverpool clearly covet Lovren and, to that end, it may even be in their interests that he fails to show for pre-season on July 21.

But wouldn't it strike a blow for decency if they communicated to his people how they'd think more of him if he did.


Croke Park left red-faced after concert fiasco

The emotive coverage of the Garth Brooks concert fiasco has largely neglected the fact that Croke Park and promoter, Peter Aiken, were selling something they didn't own.

With the stadium licensed to hold just three major events per year outside the GAA programme (and the One Direction concerts already filled those slots), it meant any "subject to licence" clause on Garth Brooks tickets ought really to have been written in neon.

It is an unavoidable quirk of the industry that a promoter must first announce a concert before he or she can gauge likely ticket demands. In other words, they must put the cart before the horse.

As ticket sales rocketed for the Brooks concerts, Aiken and Croke Park were – essentially – selling a prayer, one that Dublin City Council subsequently chose not to answer.

They went to the poker table and lost.

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