Brendan Crossan: Searching for a pulse around the inter-county game

The media offerings served up have become all a bit undignified
Brendan Crossan - The Boot Room

STANDING alone deep in the bowels of the Cusack stand breathing in the exhaust fumes of both the Kilkenny and Cork team buses last Sunday.

The game itself was great.

But standing there you're thinking: surely there is more to life than this.

Managers Brian Cody and John Meyler had fulfilled their post-match media obligations in a nearby lecture room.

Even though it was an All-Ireland quarter-final, no players were put forward by either camp. No questions asked.

As my journalist colleagues head back round to the seventh floor of the Hogan stand to watch some of Tipperary’s All-Ireland quarter-final joust with Laois, you hang around to try and catch a Kilkenny or Cork hurler for a follow-up interview.

Your chances are slim. You also feel a bit conspicuous standing alone.

As the team buses chunter away outside the respective changing rooms, you reflect on why there isn’t a mixed zone area like they have in professional soccer, where players can decide to stop and talk to the media or merely head for their seat on the bus.

At least in soccer there is a forum for engagement.

What journalists on the GAA beat currently receive are a few post-match crumbs. And we should all be grateful.

Players disappear onto the team bus, actively discouraged from talking to reporters.

This is how the GAA rolls these days. More and more players are going through their careers without uttering a word.

Nobody knows anything about them as those carrying tape-recorders are viewed with deep suspicion.

And yet, you look at the current crop GAA pundits and the vast majority had a media profile during their playing careers.

Many of them are making a decent living out of talking GAA, and good luck to them.

There were always press officers in the GAA but they are a different animal to, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

In my more recent experiences, most press officers are there to obstruct rather than accommodate the media.

After a recent Championship game, a broadcast journalist grabbed a quick word with a player before the team’s press officer arrived on the scene to demand the post-match interview not be used.

The journalist had contravened the rules - the press officer’s rules.

As far as I’m aware, the player did not talk about ‘Brexit’ or the infinite possibilities of the backstop or the stalemate of Stormont.

He probably paid tribute to their vanquished opponents and humbly looked ahead to the team’s next Championship challenge. Hardly earth-shattering or off-message stuff – but it still contravened the rules.

After the same game I asked a player for a quick interview.

He apologised and explained he would have to ask the press officer. The interview never took place.

It’s not the first time a player has apologised after a game because he wasn’t at liberty to talk about football.

This is serfdom of an alien kind.

After this year’s Division Four final between Derry and Leitrim, a handful of reporters chatted to Derry boss Damian McErlain before a GAA press officer intervened to tell us to “hurry up, lads”.

The post-match interview was no longer than six minutes, and yet we were told to wrap it up. The whole process of GAA media relations has become all a bit undignified.

A big, thick layer of self-serving PR bureaucracy has emerged in recent years. It would kill your spirit.

The two best press briefings I’ve attended this year were the Ulster minor and U20 Championship launches, both at Garvaghey.

A manager and player from each county attended.

It was a good experience for the young players to be interviewed. As far as I know, nobody died as a result of what was uttered in Garvaghey on both occasions.

GAA media discourse has become desperately anodyne. The inter-county game has lost the run of itself.

The control freakery on every level has got way out of hand, where players are apologising to reporters after games for not being able to speak. It was not always like this. The inter-county game used to be fun to cover.

Players would freely chat to the media, relationships were forged, trust was established and as a result many players carved out media careers for themselves.

Even the access which is currently afforded to the media is lamentable where reporters feed off the same quotes that are mass produced the next day in their print and digital platforms.

The GAA may be hailing this year’s Championships in football and hurling as successes but their media approach is all wrong. Audiences have been tumbling for a while now and gate receipts are down as the GAA grapples with new formats and tiers.

There are a number of factors for this, one of which is the generally straitjacketed media offerings served up.

The game should be all about the players but because of the restrictions placed on them, they concede centre stage to the pundits.

It’s all about what Joe Brolly says, or Tomas O Se says, or Colm O’Rourke says.

Meanwhile, the player narratives are forever buried under the prevailing control freakery of the day.

No wonder media outlets are shifting their focus away from players and concentrating on more analysis and opinion pieces. Maybe one day reporters won’t have to be chaperoned to media conference rooms like school children because nobody will care what is said there.

The current disconnect at inter-county level certainly doesn’t help the presentation of Gaelic Games.

Roll on the club championships, where you don’t have to search for a pulse.

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