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Tyrone GAA has had better weeks in the spotlight

The recent controversy over player expenses serves as an unwelcome distraction to Mickey Harte's squad

PRIOR to the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, Gary Neville gave a two-hour presentation to the England players about how to deal with media interviews.

Neville encouraged the England players to do every interview asked of them. But there were important clauses.

The former Manchester United defender wanted them to think deeper about doing press conferences.

“What they have to do for an interview is treat it like a training session,” Neville explained.

“You prepare for it, you know your subject. You know what the journalist is going to want out of you, what’s the headline you want to give him?

“What pathway is he looking to take you down? Prepare for it methodically a day before knowing it’s coming, and [think] what’s actually going to help me beyond this interview to play better…."

Neville added: “I don’t think players go into press conferences or interviews with a feeling of preparedness; I think they go in there with a few words in their ear from the press officer rather than thinking what do I want out of this?

"Think of it as a training session or a match and pay real attention to it, do your homework.”

England still flopped at the World Cup but Neville’s presentation still had plenty of merit especially given the fractious relationship the England national team has had with its media and the intense scrutiny the team finds itself under every time they take to the field.

While everything was carefully choreographed at GAA Congress in Dublin last weekend, there didn’t seem to be any choreography in Garvaghey on Monday afternoon when Tyrone player Ronan McNamee spoke to the press at an arranged GAA briefing.

Should those of us in the media be complaining about a lack of choreography?

After all, isn’t there already too much media training in the sporting world?

The reporters in attendance had two obvious lines of enquiry for McNamee: one, his thoughts on the recently passed ‘Super 8’ proposal at Congress; two, his reaction to the letter sent by a Tyrone player to Dublin radio station Newstalk criticising some fiscal policies of the Tyrone County Board.

McNamee hadn't done his homework prior to meeting the press on Monday and certainly didn’t treat it like a training session.

Instead, the Tyrone full-back gave an honest appraisal of both subjects. He didn’t cast a vote on the changes to the All-Ireland senior football Championship because he wasn’t up to speed on it, but also because he felt powerless in the grand scheme of things.

He also confirmed the Tyrone camp had issues with the county board in relation to expenses and players being asked to pay a £15 contribution towards their sports equipment.

The Tyrone full-back stressed he would still be playing football regardless of how much or how little was spent on the panel as they aim for provincial and All-Ireland honours in 2017.

Candidness should never be pilloried.

In fact, GAA supporters could do with more of it given the sometimes banal nature of many interviews they read.

McNamee didn’t reach for the sanctity of well-worn clichés. He was asked a question and he answered it.

But what the letter to Newstalk and McNamee’s interview combined to do was paint a picture that all was not rosy in the Tyrone garden.

In dealing with the media, tone is everything.

Last month Sean Cavanagh told reporters: “Like anything, you'd like that wee bit more, to get the best nutrition or the best whatever.

“But the guys are equally willing, if the county's not spending it on us, the guys will spend on themselves. They don't really cause that much of a fuss about it.”

Contrast Cavanagh’s phlegmatic tone to the angry – equally articulate – tone of the letter sent to the Dublin radio station last week.

The Tyrone County Board defended itself in a statement released to the media last Friday afternoon.

But they have contributed to the PR mess the county finds itself in.

Given Mickey Harte’s impressive managerial performance, it was short-sighted of the county board not to extend his arrangement beyond 2017, even though it’s inconceivable he won’t be in charge in 2018.

With several key players perceiving the county board’s treatment of Harte to be mean-spirited, the £15 player levy for equipment bolsters their negative perception of its administrators.

Indeed, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that asking the Tyrone players for £15 each was an exercise in penny-pinching.

It was also naïve to think that this controversial levy, among other expenses issues, would not find its way into the mainstream media at some point and would reflect badly on county officialdom.

Earlier this week, it fell to the squad’s most experienced player Sean Cavanagh to get the genie back into its bottle.

The Moy man insisted that the county panel was “very well resourced” and that some “minor” issues were being addressed.

It did smack of a bit of choreography. Most press statements have that effect. But everyone was back on message.

It would be astonishing if there’s another word uttered to the media about the expenses row.

You can imagine Harte isn’t too enamoured with the lack of certainty surrounding his own managerial position - but it doesn’t tally that this latest episode in some curious way serves him or the team well.

It doesn't. It's an unwanted distraction. The pressure points of the season are still some distance away. Which is just as well.

In the meantime, the Tyrone county board can do one of two things: it can address the players' issues or commit itself to dogma.

Given how tantalisingly close this group of players are to major silverware, charging them £15 each seems a bit ludicrous in anyone's estimation.

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