Sport Rugby

Saturday 23 March 2019

Alan Quinlan: Teams need to put bums on seats and they can't do that without the media


Martin O'Neill, Joe Schmidt and Jim Gavin have had issues with the media recently
Martin O'Neill, Joe Schmidt and Jim Gavin have had issues with the media recently
Alan Quinlan

Alan Quinlan

Having worked on both sides of the fence, it is obvious that there needs to be division between the two parties but frosty exchanges or radio silences will ultimately have a negative impact on supporters

May, 2009

Alan Quinlan at a Munster press conference with Paul O’Connell and Marcus Horan. Photo: Sportsfile
Alan Quinlan at a Munster press conference with Paul O’Connell and Marcus Horan. Photo: Sportsfile

I want to crawl into a hole and let it all blow over. My last shot at a Lions tour has vanished in the wind, and it feels like every man and his dog knows about it. When you want to hide from the world the last thing you need is a camera in your face.

I'm an emotional wreck. I'm outraged by some of the things that have been said about me; character assassinations on the back of one incident. Parts of the media are tearing strips off me. I'm furious. How dare they - they don't even know me. "We're just doing our job," they say.

September, 2011

I'M only out of the game a wet week and I find myself on the other side of the world with a microphone in my hand offering opinions on my former international team-mates at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. I had no idea how much work went into this.

Old habits die hard. I'm hanging around the team hotel. I miss the buzz and the camaraderie. I still see myself as a player, but as long as there is recording equipment in my hand the boys will be on edge around me. I'm reminded, nicely, to keep my distance. The team hotel isn't my place anymore. I've changed sides.

January, 2016

Have I gone too far? My criticism is creating a stir. I'm starting to feel guilty. A lot of these guys are still good friends. However, their performance in the 27-7 defeat to Stade Francais just wasn't good enough and my cutting hot-take of it being "embarrassing, humiliating, disgraceful" is fuelled by disappointment. It's not personal, I'm just calling it as I see it. I'm just doing my job.

* * * * *

It's amazing the perspective you get from standing on both sides of the fence.

I went from being a professional athlete in a highly-scrutinised environment for 15 years to being the one holding the magnifying glass.

Straight from the dressing-room and into the commentary box - that took some getting used to. Still does.

The nerves I've felt over the last few weeks, doing my first Six Nations with TV3, are as prominent as the first day I walked wide-eyed into the studio in New Plymouth to cover Ireland v USA seven years ago with no more than a match programme under my arm. Just like on the sporting field, you learn from your mistakes in the media, your preparation improves, and, ultimately, you are trying to perform to the best of your ability.

The relationship between the media and professional sport is bound to be fiery at times.

They are two very separate entities, with very different goals, trying to live under the same roof. But what we must not forget is that they are interdependent.

There needs to be a healthy division between the media and sporting organisations; for the public to trust that the reporting is objective and so the team can function without too much press invasion.

Respect is also vital for both parties to coexist professionally.

The public, revelling in the tension, may lap up spats between managers and the media but the reality is, for each interview that is denied, or for each frosty riposte given on air, the risk of another supporter feeling disconnected heightens.

Martin O'Neill's exchanges with RTÉ's Tony O'Donoghue tend to generate enormous online traffic, but the Ireland manager's lack of composure certainly doesn't help get the public on his side.

I've been in that testy situation after a bad day at the office; it's tough to remain calm after a disappointing result, particularly when you feel a question is provocative, but you have to remember that post-match interviews are a vital window for supporters to get a feel for the people they are paying good money to see in the flesh.

Similarly, if managers refuse to speak to certain media, as is the case in the GAA with Jim Gavin's and Mickey Harte's radio silence with RTÉ, and Joe Schmidt's decision to drop the post-match huddle with newspaper journalists, supporters may start to feel a growing distance between them and those on the field.

Aside from contractual obligations, managers and players can, of course, decide who they do and don't speak to. And if they feel a member of the media has been disingenuous in their coverage, one of my bugbears, I can understand why they would decide to give the silent treatment, for a while at least.

But the show must go on. Teams need to put bums on seats, sell merchandise and continue to grow their support bases, and without the media that would be next to impossible.

Similarly, in an ultra-competitive environment, media organisations need to keep fighting for their market share of the audience, and without sufficient access to the most popular sporting teams in the country, that becomes increasingly difficult.

Official social media channels of sporting organisations are useful sources of information but consumers of sports news are smart enough to know the difference between critical, independent journalism, and PR spin.

I don't like everybody in the media, it's just like any other industry, any walk of life, but as long as I think someone's opinion is genuine, I can tolerate it.

Having differing views around selections and tactics is a staple of sports coverage, and generates great public debate.

Sport needs the media as much as the media needs sport. And it also needs journalists to challenge the status quo and go a different direction in their approach, even if that puts a few noses out of joint.

The media and professional sports teams have a complex relationship and that is never going to change.

Both need to be able to throw jabs at each other but the cheap shots, from either side, should not go unchecked.

A healthy distance needs to be maintained between the two entities, something yours truly struggled with when making the transition from player to broadcaster.

The first Munster game I covered for Sky Sports was a Heineken Cup pool match against Castres in Toulouse and it was hard to drop my previous game-day routine.

Paul O'Connell lived a few houses away from me and we used to car-share for the trip to the airport.

The morning of the flight I considered ringing him to ask for a lift but in my new guise I soon thought better of it.

We were on the same charter to the south of France and, as chance would have it, we saw each other as we left our housing estate, separately, for the airport.

Looks were exchanged as we prepared for convoy travel in different realms. It all felt bizarre.

Later, I took my seat down the back of the plane while Paul joined the lads up the front.

If ever I needed confirmation that my playing days were over, this was it. I was in the outcast zone. I had to be.

Paul and I understood that we had different jobs to do in France that weekend.

There was an understanding that we still needed each other on a professional level, even if the terms of our relationship had changed.

Irish Independent

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