GAA shouldn't run scared of players talking

[caption id="attachment_67924" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Kevin Cassidy has been excluded from the Donegal squad because of comments made in a book that took readers behind the scenes in Ulster championship football. "]


The sports world is a strange and wonderful place. Since they were taken over by Arab billionaires, we are supposed to hate Manchester City. Despite the fact Mario Balotelli is one of the most fascinating characters to emerge for years, the conventional wisdom is that all right-thinking people must cheer against City. They are so vulgar, so new money. They are trying to take a shortcut to success. They throw cash at problem positions and are trying to win trophies by simply buying up the best available talent. This is not what sport is supposed to be about and when they win the Champions' League, it will be a sad day for the game.

Compare that then to the country rooting so heartily for legendary trainer Aidan O'Brien and his horses as they stockpile Grade One races every year. Yes, we know it was lovely to see O'Brien's teenage son Joseph win a race at the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky last week but what's the difference between Ballydoyle and Manchester City? Don't Coolmore, the owners of Ballydoyle, spend ludicrous sums of money buying up the best horses money available? Even in a sport where others also over-spend, Coolmore are renowned for wildly flinging money around at yearling sales all over the world.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

With the best facilities and some of the best horses in the world at his disposal then, shouldn't O'Brien be training an inordinate amount of winners? Wouldn't anything less be a very big disappointment? So why should he get so many plaudits while Manchester City must be derided and lampooned and wished ill at every turn? Well, at least part of the reason is that in the sports world, logic and reason can be checked at the door. We don't have to explain why things are they way they are, we just have to accept them.

Otherwise, we'd never understand incidents such as Donegal asking Kevin Cassidy to leave the county's Gaelic football panel earlier this week. Like most of the rest of the country, I couldn't pick Cassidy out of a police line-up. Indeed, when I think of the Donegal footballers these days, all I do is shudder at the grim yet effective approach they brought to the sport last summer. Cassidy's crime was to give a journalist writing a book about the Ulster Championship too much interesting information about life on the county team.

At a time when Gaelic football is direly in need of publicity and exposure, Cassidy committed the cardinal sin of giving a writer something more than the bland platitudes dished out by so many of his contemporaries. In doing so, he presumably made author Declan Bogue's "This is Our Year" a much better book by taking readers behind the curtain and showing us the reality of the carry-on at inter-county level. This is what the GAA needs more of. Not less of. The great pity about the Kilkenny phenomenon of the past decade is that no serious tome has been written about it yet.

All serious sports deserve books that do them justice. I can't vouch for the quality of Bogue's books but having read the Cassidy extracts, I'd be willing to venture there's plenty in there to keep Gaelic football devotees going this winter. We crave the kind of detail he imparts about lunatic training sessions, discussions about how to make the team nastier in games, and player revolts. Those of us who weren't good enough to ever make it into those elite dressing-rooms love to be brought in there as flies on the wall.

But this is sports world and Cassidy is deemed to have broken the omerta. Aside from him being asked to leave the panel, a petty and short-sighted move by Jim McGuinness, the whole furore will ensure that in the future Gaelic footballers and hurlers will be even more tight-lipped around journalists and writers. Exactly what the GAA doesn't need. These are amateurs and within reason they should be encouraged to talk freely about the games. We want to hear from them and we want them to be a cut above Premier League post-match soundbites. Yet managers are loath to allow them even do interviews most of the time.

I remember talking to a Cork footballer once about the then-manager banning him and several of his team-mates from talking to the media because he felt they were too young for this responsibility. The player felt insulted because, as a man in his 20s with two college degrees, he believed he was smart enough to handle a few basic questions from reporters about how preparations were going etc...

When will those in authority within the GAA realize they must use all available media, not run scared of them. Maybe when they realize the absolute folly of appointing a player who steadfastly refuses to talk to journalists as captain of a national team heading to Australia to play a game that is desperately in need of promotion?

One of the great pleasures for Twitter users this past few weeks has been watching the various twitpics from Dublin footballers as they cavort around the place with Sam Maguire. Pat Gilroy may not appreciate some of the japes, especially if they continue over the coming months, but for the rest of us, it's heartening to see a group of amateur athletes obviously having so much fun with a trophy that they spent so long trying to win. We want our heroes to be human and to be like children with a new toy when they win something.

That they are daring to use Twitter at all is heartening after the way Laois footballer M.J. Tierney was hauled over the coals during the championship for using the device to voice his dissatisfaction at not starting in a game against Dublin. Again, shouldn't fans be happy that a player was unhappy at being a sub? Yes, they should but the sports world is a strange and wonderful place. Normal rules do not apply.