Danny Hughes: The human aspect must be at heart of GAA commentary

Former Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice has spoken of the level of personal abuse he and some of his former players received during the past few seasons. It's important to remember that all those who play and manage at the top level are human Picture by Seamus Loughran

IT'S 2019 already. It feels like only yesterday that I was in my mid-20s. I despise aging. 

Inevitably, it becomes harder to maintain your levels of fitness, not to mention any hair you are holding onto and I think increasingly I am much more aware of a thing called ‘the middle-age spread’.

For many, this happens when you are closer to 40 than 30 but, in Benny Tierney’s case, it started to kick in in his late teens for some reason.

Anyone who hasn’t heard Benny ‘live in concert’ should really get him along to talk.

I have not had the pleasure of attending events as good as those the former All-Ireland winner acts as compere at.

Those type of gregarious characters the GAA has produced over the years really are a dying breed, especially in the seriousness of the modern game.

In 2019, I hope, like many others I’m sure, we see a more relaxed and tactically holistic approach in the analysis of our games, especially Gaelic football.

Two RTE programmes over the festive period really hammered it home for me: Players of the Faithful, about the Offaly side that won the 1982 All-Ireland SFC, and Jayo, about former Dublin star Jason Sherlock.

I think the main thing analysis and commentary has lost in the modern game is perspective and a mindfulness of the human aspect of things.

A mistake or a poor performance in a game, especially at inter-county level, can wreak havoc on the psyche of player.

In 2018, former Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice gave us a small insight into the personal stuff he and some of his players have been subjected to.

This criticism has become particularly harsh in modern times.

Ger Loughnane, Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane have all irked supporters at one time or another over the years.

Our GAA analysts have left nobody in any doubt as to what their opinion is as regards certain individuals, teams and subjects.

Many of the things said publicly, live in the TV studio at an inter-county hurling or football match, would simply not be accepted in the studios of Sky TV on the Super Sundays of the Premier League.

If anything, given that soccer is a professional sport, one would assume that the analysts are perfectly entitled to be much more personal than they actually are.

When I see the antics of soccer players, like the 25-year-old Paul Pogba, celebrating goals with childlike stunts and dancing around with other grown men, I cannot express my true feelings in words.

Yes, I know what you are thinking: as a Liverpool supporter I would say that, wouldn’t I?

However, think of previous Manchester United legends like Roy Keane, Denis Irwin and Bryan Robson and you should get what I am saying.

Michael Murphy led Donegal to an All-Ireland title at just 23 years of age. He continues to be a leader, an inspirational figure for Donegal and a proper professional in how he approaches the game.

Similarly, Mattie Donnelly in Tyrone carries a similar aura to that of Murphy.

These are amateur players. I don’t think we should forget about this in 2019.

Like many others at all levels, players have day jobs, families to support and mortgage payments to meet.

Many who express opinions are simply unaware that it is the players who actually experience the hurt most after major defeats in games and competitions.

When the door closes, away from the crowds, your team-mates and the media, defeats, poor performances, mistakes, substitutions and being axed from panels have to be reconciled in one’s mind and made peace with.

The human aspect of disappointment can be a difficult mental barrier to overcome, such as those the Offaly players experienced prior to the 1982 final win or those Jason Sherlock experienced over the years in the face of misconceptions from others.

Does anyone realise how hard recovery was, from Kieran McGeeney’s perspective, from being substituted in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2005 between Armagh’s great rivals Tyrone?

Does anyone appreciate the fact that many of my fellow team-mates (me particularly) found it difficult to recover from a one-point defeat in an All-Ireland final in 2010? That one point still keeps me awake at night.

So, in that context, when you compare professionals, such as those in rugby and especially those in soccer, with Gaelic players at inter-county level, it is increasingly difficult not to justify remunerating our players in some way for their total and absolute commitment.

I would have no issue should this be the case in 2019, or in the years which follow.

I think it is an inevitability at inter-county level and do not share doomsday opinions on the impact this may have at club level.

I have no such fears, as I believe club football at all levels will always be based around an amateur status and volunteerism, as in soccer and rugby at amateur levels.

I have somewhat digressed, so, returning to my original point, I hope 2019 brings a more game-focused approach in the studio analysis, more on the tactical approach, systems of play and the skills of Gaelic football.

We need analysts to support their opinions with facts and not just regurgitate a series of generalised points week-in, week-out.

So, I hope 2019 is a successful one for all Gaels, we get a bit more positivity about the game and we appreciate our players at all levels a little bit more.

I hope to practise what I preach.

Happy 2019 all.

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