The GAA's man behind the scenes: Alan Milton
ALAN Milton’s mobile phone buzzes a lot. Even though the heavy lifting has been done days before All-Ireland final day, it still buzzes. Relentlessly.
Behind the scenes, the GAA’s Head of Communications is like a jack-in-the-box in Croke Park.
While members of the media sit back and choose between a plate of chicken curry with rice and beef stroganoff and potatoes - only on All-Ireland final day - you’ll spot Milton in the background.
Doing something; anything from taking calls about lost tickets to a hiccup with the Gardai escort for the Kerry minors.
The 38-year-old Dubliner fixes things. That’s what he does.
A good day for him on Jones’s Road is when the post-match talk is all about the game. That’s what matters.
Milton is a Round Towers clubman. He played a few years at senior level, mostly at corner-back.
One of his biggest sporting regrets is not playing hurling in his youth. And yet, the small-ball game is now flying at Round Towers.
He’s an executive committee member at the Clondalkin club, he’s on the juvenile committee and has volunteered to take the U8 camogs and ladies football team.
His wife Méabh is a west Belfast native, hailing from the Sarsfields club. Their kids were at Cul Camp in Glenariffe this summer and they spend as much time as they can up in Antrim’s scenic north coast.
A former journalist for the best part of a decade, Milton entered Croke Park’s communications department nearly eight years ago.
In the early days, he was often chided by his former journalist colleagues about the “poacher turned gamekeeper”.
Going from journalist to GAA administrator was a tricky enough transition for Milton. But he’s managed it well and retained many of the friendships he nurtured during his days on the media beat.
“I took it [the chiding] in the humour it was meant,” Milton recalls. “There’s always great black humour between journalists. Some of my best friends are in the media.
“The ability to write should never be taken for granted – to be accurate, to have that attention to detail, and the fact-checking; they are core responsibilities in the media but they apply in so many other aspects of life.
“Yes, I would have been conscious for the first while in the job. For instance, there would be a story about the GAA in the papers and you’d be conscious that people might link it back to you.
“But I must compliment all my former colleagues, there was never undue pressure placed on me, the lads are really professional and the GAA really values the relationship we have with the media.
“And while at times it can become strained, a lot of other sports bodies on the island, I’d imagine, would look at the relationship we have with our media – and the reason why it’s different is because a lot of the guys have played, are playing or are involved in the GAA and understand the GAA. That’s important.”
Anyone who knows the GAA’s communications chief will make the following observation: he was made for the role.
He misses aspects of his former career, but only aspects.
“I miss match-reporting, trying to analyse a game and writing about it,” he says.
“I don’t miss the flashing cursor on a Tuesday morning and writing 2,000 words. I miss the banter with the lads, I miss the rivalry and the competition but I had a decade at it, and when Croke Park comes calling - it generally only comes calling once - I look at Croke Park the way many people look at it, as a very, very special place in Irish life and to get the opportunity to work in here is a privilege.”
Before you get the wrong impression, it’s not the Alan Milton show.
He speaks in the collective about the GAA’s communications department, and in glowing terms.
The “heavy lifting” that his colleague Siobhan Brady does in the lead-up to big games and on the day of big games and Cian Murphy’s easy demeanour when stress levels rise around the post-match arrangements.
He mentions the digital expertise provided by Lisa Hayden and Colman Hanley. He lauds the work of John Harrington and Cian O’Connell on www.gaa.ie.
Sarah Stanley was on work placement and he acknowledges her “great help” during the summer months. And the hordes of volunteer stewards.
So you get the picture. This is event-managing on a grand scale - the GAA’s human co-operative that will be in place for today's All-Ireland final replay between Dublin and Mayo.
You’ll hardly notice them because you’re not meant to.
“I would arrive in Croke Park on the day of the All-Ireland at about 10 o’clock and we have an editorial meeting – what’s going on the big screen that day, what’s the entertainment schedule, how the games are being presented, are there any minute’s silence, are there any special arrangements with dignitaries that we would have to be across?
“I would then read over the press cuttings of that day. I get a copy of every newspaper and it is as much to be informed and to see what people are saying. But also to challenge inaccuracies when they arise. That’s not too frequent to be honest.”
Of course, there are hiccups along the way. And when things do go wrong, social media is all over them like a cheap suit.
This year’s Christy Ring final debacle, where the game had to be replayed because of a scoring error, is a case in point.
“The game-changer has been social media,” Milton explains. “For example, the pre-match photograph for the football final [between Dublin and Mayo, when the sides clashed].
“Previously, that would have been discussed on The Sunday Game or on the radio at half-time. But it was all over social media as soon as it happened. But we’re on social media platforms too, so we don’t have to rely on the media to do that any more. We can do that ourselves now.”
When the ball is thrown in by Maurice Deegan at tea-time today, Milton will try and enjoy the game.
He will have one hand on his phone, the other on his walkie-talkie.
“My job satisfaction is when the All-Ireland final is over and the talk is all about the football or the hurling and nothing else," he says. "That is job satisfaction.
“There is also great satisfaction when I’m standing Amhrán na bhFiann, and looking down and there are 30 players standing to attention to our national flag; those days are quintessentially Irish in my head.
“I came here as a supporter, I came here as a reporter and now I come here as someone who is privileged to work in here.
“I’m acutely aware of what that day means to so many people around the globe. In many ways it’s the prism through which people see their Irishness and it behoves us to do the best job we can.
“The be all and end all, for me, is what takes place over the white lines. The game is our raison d'être, it’s why we exist and we can never lose sight of that.
“Granted, there is a lot of other stuff going on around it, but the game is everything.”