Richard Sadlier: Stay off television if you won't criticise your friends
Analysis should be left to those who are willing to be honest about what they have seen, says Richard Sadlier
Stories that feature the words 'we ended up in Coppers' usually have a certain flavour to them. After playing in a testimonial in Dalymount Park a few years ago, a lot of the players involved ended up in Coppers. We hadn't spent the day together as a group but our paths merged late that evening in the famous Dublin nightclub.
My memory of the whole night is patchy, but this much I do remember. Steve Staunton confronted me at the bar about my repeated criticisms of him during his time as Ireland manager. "You're on the other side of the fence now," he said with disdain. It took the intervention of others to bring the exchange to an end but he had made his point very clearly by then: I was wrong to be so publicly critical of people I played alongside. I should have known better.
Last Monday Cork hurler Anthony Nash spoke out against the practice of retired players criticising former team-mates in the media. He was referring specifically to how some of his former colleagues assessed last season's All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Tipperary. He didn't comment on whether there was any truth in what was said, his only issue was the identity of the people involved.
"A few lads we would have played with came out with comments I was disappointed with," said Nash, "because I would have togged out beside them in the dressing room."
"It's easy to criticise," he added. "I hope when I retire that I won't criticise players that have played."
It goes without saying that Nash and Staunton aren't the only ones with such sensitivities. They are not alone in viewing criticism by former team-mates as a betrayal of sorts. The unwritten code of the dressing room, that spurious notion promoting togetherness and loyalty among players, forbids this kind of thing.
Not everyone adheres to it, obviously, and many disregard it entirely, but those who follow it have a tendency to claim some sense of superiority over those who don't. Criticise former team-mates in public? I've got more class than to do that. I've more loyalty than that. Kick a former team-mate in public when he's down? I'm above that.
Put to one side for the moment who Nash was talking about or what he/they said (most people have an idea who he was referring to anyway), and I would like to have heard him explain what it was about last season's 10-point defeat to Tipperary that he felt made them immune to criticism from people who have been there before. And if he had been asked to give his view after witnessing a game like that, how would he have honestly replied? Sticking to the positives would have been a tall order the way that semi-final went. You could see that without ever being near the inside of a GAA dressing room.
Nash doesn't sound like he has aspirations to work in the media. You don't say you hope you'll never criticise players when you retire if you have eyes on a career analysing the game. After all, if you go on television and believe you should be protecting friends in the dressing room you shouldn't be taking money to go on television. Analysis should be left to those willing to be honest about what they have seen. Toning things down to protect your old friends shouldn't be encouraged at all.
It's hard to know what people who think this way are really trying to achieve. I'm sure they'll say it's something lofty like upholding the sanctity of the dressing room or the integrity of the game, two phrases that can mean anything but often mean nothing.
I imagine some people genuinely believe it's just the wrong thing to do, that it's simply not nice to be critical in public about people you know. I'm sure there are a variety of scenarios where that would certainly be the case, but there's no room for that sentiment when it comes to how sport should be covered by the media.
It feels to me as if it's more about the protection of fragile egos. It's about dumbing down commentary and analysis to protect the reputations of people who are under-performing. It's nothing to do with standards of behaviour or the good of the game. Sports commentary is over-populated enough with former players unwilling to criticise the people they know. Whoever Nash was referring to should be praised for not doing the same.
Sunday Indo Sport