Sport

Danny Hughes: GAA has Mickey Mouse approach to media and elephants in their room

High profile footballers like Aidan O'Shea are expected to behave like robots and end up getting stick for not trying to please everybody

‘A Football Life’ is a series available on Sky, documenting some of the finest American Football players and managers in the sport’s history.

I am not endorsing Sky or promoting their products here, but the actual documentaries are fascinating even if you don’t have an interest in American Football.

Some are tragic tales, while others are thought-provoking and gave you an appreciation of hope in the ability of the human spirit to endure difficulty.

RTÉ recently screened ‘Micko’, a similar piece on the great Mick O’Dwyer which was generally very well received, especially by Kerry supporters and ex-players.

This RTÉ documentary was a feelgood programme. If Disney had commissioned it, it would have looked exactly like the version screened.

Issues such as management payments were fleetingly dismissed and left unaddressed.

You forget how good Micko’s son Karl was as an inter-county player. However, more depth regarding how he ended up playing for Kildare would have been welcome.

You get some idea of sponsorship and the figures bandied about when the Kerry team and management pose in front of a washing machine.

However, generally this ‘Disney’ feel to the whole thing meant that some of the most important issues in the GAA went unspoken.

We still remain reluctant to confront ‘GAA omerta’, this code of silence within the game.

Have you ever heard of ‘Broadway Joe’?

Joe Namath was one of the first iconic American Football quarterbacks. Model good looks, he set trends and set his female followers’ hearts racing.

The quarter-back in American Football is a living God in a footballing sense.

The GAA equivalent is perhaps Bernard Brogan or Cian O’Sullivan.

‘A Football Life’ delves into everything from Joe’s fondness for the bachelor’s life, his association with some unsavoury characters via a club he part-owned, ‘Bachelors III’, and indeed his unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Such was the tapestry of his life, the documentary actually had two parts. It was in stark contrast to RTÉ’s ‘Micko’ in my opinion. I didn’t feel I knew any more about the Kerry man, apart from his fondness for cars.

Over the years, you hear numerous tales such as how one-dimensional some of the training sessions were. Perhaps this is why, eventually, Laois players effectively brought Micko’s reign to an end in the O’Moore county. Again, we won’t know why this happened.

There was no alternative argument given to some of the more difficult questions. I can only presume that this wasn’t conducive to the ‘feelgood’ spirit of the documentary.

It appears to be generally accepted now in the GAA that the media are ‘the enemy’.

Every team will have their nominated ‘go-to’ players who are wheeled out to the waiting journalists. The same players, week in, week out.

The ‘omerta’ which exists within inter-county teams is just as prevalent. You must play everything down is the message: “The opposition are brilliant”, “We must respect our opponents”, “It was a difficult game” (even though the margin of a win was, say, 10 points).

Meanwhile, back to ‘Broadway Joe’. In Superbowl III in 1969, an unfancied New York Jets were playing the Baltimore Colts and the Colts were expected to win by a wide margin.

Three days before the final, ‘Broadway Joe’ brashly guaranteed a victory for the New York Jets. You could imagine the pressure on Namath and indeed his team-mates going into the game.

You could imagine the outcry if this was one of our own inter-county stars. They would be castigated, perhaps dropped even, for giving the opposition an advantage before a ball is even kicked.

New York Jets would go on to win the game and Namath was declared the ‘Most Valuable Player’(MVP).

This inherent confidence, employed in the right context, can be a team’s greatest asset.

In most sports – especially team sports – the single biggest asset is confidence in one’s ability.

Sports psychologists are making up a management team and, in many set-ups, they have greater access to the players than the coach.

Having had access to them myself over the years, the most relevant individuals were those who displayed a brashness and an expression of confidence.

Despite this, though, most managers I ever played under talked us up privately and talked us down publicly. Why?

It was well documented that in the 2003 Ulster final we went nine points up at one stage and, with the goals flying in, Paddy O’Rourke couldn’t hide his emotions and celebrated wildly along the line.

No different to Jürgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho these days.

In the replay of the same game, Mickey Harte reportedly stuck pictures of O’Rourke celebrating all over the Tyrone changing room wall in Clones.

Tyrone would go on to hammer Down in the replay.

Why did people love to hate Joe Brolly and Ger Houlihan of Armagh?

Joe scored goals and blew kisses and Ger scored goals and jumped on fences.

These were confident individuals who played the game like they played it in their back garden. They played it in the only way they knew.

Before the start of last season’s Championship, Bernard Flynn wrote a piece about Aidan O’Shea which typified why the same player comes under more scrutiny than many others.

Rightly or wrongly, Mayo’s O’Shea is his own man and, whether it is signing autographs away from the team or swapping GAA for American Football for the purpose of a TV entertainment show, in any other sport no-one would bat an eyelid.

We expect Aidan to be like every other ‘robot player’ and to stick to the party line. No media interviews please, just conform to the system.

At the launch of Tyrone’s new 2018 playing jersey, the same players were wheeled out in front of the press and then dutifully informed that they would not be taking questions or partaking in interviews.

As an ex-player I find this astonishing. Mattie Donnelly, for instance, will not always play inter-county football for Tyrone. He deserves to make the most of his exposure when he is still playing at the top level.

In removing his access to explore this avenue, Mattie Donnelly is the one who suffers in the long-term.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a current Dublin player come out and say that they are the best team to have played the game?

Would it not be refreshing for a player to ‘guarantee’ a victory prior to this year’s Championship?

In every other sport, this brash confidence is embraced.

They laud the best quarterbacks and the best basketball players in the USA for it. In golf, confidence is what separates many professionals. Yet in the GAA, our players are practically reading scripts. It’s the same rubbish trotted out year in, year out.

Also in the GAA, the ‘omerta’ about payment for services doesn’t fit in with our ‘Disney’ view of the world.

It means that we can’t talk about sponsored cars for players.

Some begrudge managers – including Micko himself – for receiving anything, yet we choose to ignore this fact when any life lived is being documented.

We live in a world of fear of the truth, of fear of alternative thinking, in a world where we’re castigated for criticising anything or offending anyone.

‘Broadway Joe’ could never have stood for this. From what I watched, Joe Namath’s life has been a life lived.

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