Kicking Out: Branagan's only crime was naivety
FOR a profession fed on crumbs, Eugene Branagan’s quotes after picking up his Club Footballer of the Year award last week were like a mountainous feast for the GAA media.
The reaction in the days since have reminded everyone why we’ll be eating crumbs again for a long time.
No sooner had the words been printed on Wednesday morning than Colm Parkinson was up on his high horse.
“What a terrible attitude from Eugene Brannigan [sic] - zero self-awareness that he is part of the problem but would prefer to blame others,” tweeted the former Laois player at 8.13am, before spending the rest of the day engaging in Branagan-beating.
Let’s imagine for a second that Eugene Branagan had been a guest on Parkinson’s podcast when he’d said all this. The video would be getting tweeted six times a day and the €5s would be flying in on Patreon, and Eugene Branagan would be a great fella, not bogged down in the media-trained boredom we’re used to.
The Kilcoo man’s only crime was naivety. To think, probably in complete modesty, that his words were just a conversation about football that would turn to words on a page that nobody would pay much heed to.
You can tell quite easily that he’s not media trained. Whatever was in his head when he was asked about Down last week just came shooting on out of his mouth.
It was just the truth.
The funny thing is that it was no different to what a million other voices had been saying about the Mourne setup over the last few weeks.
Listening to The Football Pod last week, they were promoting their own live shows in Castlebar when Paddy Andrews joked that the Down lads were coming down for the sesh.
Danny Hughes has repeatedly and vividly given the whole structural setup around Down football a repeated hammering on these pages, and he’s yet to have been wrong about it.
Monaghan had just beaten his native county by ten points in the Ulster Championship, weeks after a breach of discipline by players on a training weekend led to James McCartan having to be talked down from quitting.
The fittingly dark skies overhead in Clones have lingered above the county for almost three decades now.
It is 28 years since their last Ulster title and the way things have been recently, it will be a while yet before they’re breaking that run.
Down’s struggles have been no secret.
Eugene Branagan was simply honest enough to say publically what everyone else has been saying privately for a long time.
The only person it will really affect is himself. He’ll listen to it from now until eternity on the playing pitches around Down.
The other clubs providing county players will keep it in reserve for championship and use it to stoke the fire with which they’ll attempt to bring down the All-Ireland club champions.
But Kilcoo have dined out on the internal perception that they’re intensely disliked within their own county. That has fed into the bridge-burning between club and county, and all that Eugene Brangan did was vocalise the reality of it.
Then people started calling him a hurler on the ditch. In his Irish Times column yesterday, Malachy Clerkin berated Branagan.
“It’s a bit rich for a club player who has never kicked a minute of intercounty football to be so blithely disparaging,” he wrote.
That is to insinuate that Branagan is merely a lowly club player, incapable of lacing the boots of his inter-county superiors.
Eugene Branagan, officially the best club footballer in Ireland, would walk on to the Down team, as would his brothers Daryl and Aaron, the three Johnstons and possibly Dylan Ward at midfield too. That’s a modest estimate.
It’s not that Eugene Branagan isn’t good enough to play county football and therefore is entitled to no speak. It’s that he doesn’t want to play county football. He just wants to farm and play for Kilcoo.
Six weeks ago I sat down to break some bread with Fermanagh’s Sean Quigley. And of all that he said, he kept coming back to the same salient point.
“People forget you’re not obliged. I’m playing for Fermanagh over 10 years. People probably think it’s a given for me to do that.
“If I took the notion now, after this conversation, to ring Kieran Donnelly and say ‘that’s it, I’m finished’, that’s totally my decision.
“It’s a privilege, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a choice. People maybe forget that at times,” he said.
But the argument is not about whether Eugene Branagan could play for Down or not. It’s about whether he should have said what he said.
He’d probably rather now that he hadn’t, because to do it hasn’t helped him any.
And in terms of the general discourse of Gaelic football, it will have been duly noted by everyone else on the playing circuit how unconducive your truth is to a peaceful life.
Professional sports stars figured it all out long ago. Andy Murray, despite the odd glimpse of a dry wit, has always been seen as a glum-faced killjoy by many, largely on account of his dealings with the media.
In 2013, he put it quite simply.
"As an athlete, all I do is try my best to be as good as I can be as a tennis player. Whether people like you or not should be irrelevant.
"But, to be honest, over the years I have found it difficult to open up and be a bundle of laughs in press conferences or interviews. I always try to give honest answers, but they are fairly boring so I don't have to deal with the aftermath of any scandals.”
Eugene Branagan found himself at the centre of a storm he didn’t really intend to whip up last week.
The media cannot cry out one side of its mouth about the blandness of player interviews then go lambasting out the other side the views of anyone whose helmet so much as shows a sliver up from behind the parapet.
It was hard to find anyone defending Branagan. He gained absolutely nothing out of saying what he thought.
It’ll be a long time until we get a feast like it again.
Crumbs it is and crumbs it shall be.