The GAA's increasing fascination with media bans
"My theory on Feds is they're like mushrooms, feed them shit and keep them in the dark" - Sgt. Dignam, The Departed.
Sgt. Dignam didn't like federal police agents and he had good reason to be skeptical in Martin Scorsese's 2006 crime classic The Departed as Dignam trailed a series of double agents in the Boston Police Department's hunt of crime kingpin Frank Costello.
As far as Dignam was concerned, the less the feds knew about his operation the less chance they had of revealing key information to unwanted parties.
In the GAA the media is often the unwanted party. This gaggle of hacks that exist to draw information out of managers and players, to pit one side against the other, to create that avoid at all costs word - distraction.
Over the last year we've seen an increasing trend of managers in the GAA refusing to speak to certain publications, publications from certain areas in general, or just the entire media corps as Tipperary manager Michael Ryan experimented with in the Munster championship.
Of course, the irony of not speaking to the media, is that it actually creates a much bigger distraction than if the manager just mumbled out any one of 15 cliches about 'focusing on the next game', 'focusing on their structures' or focusing on anything else apart from the question at hand.
The latest brick in this wall of silence saw the Fermanagh County GAA Board reportedly make it clear to the Donegal media that they were not welcome at their press conference in Enniskillen on Tuesday.
According to DonegalNow, a Fermanagh based freelance journalist was told that he would not be welcome at the press conference if he was filing any copy for any paper in Donegal as Fermanagh prepare to take on The Tír Conaill Men in the Ulster Senior Football Championship final later this month.
Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher resigned as Donegal manager less than a year ago so maybe this was part of the reason behind the ban, but we don't know for sure, as Fermanagh officials apparently refused to go on record with DonegalNow while they have yet to return phone calls and texts from SportsJOE about the matter.
As such, it creates speculation as to why they banned a journalist from Donegal, which often fuels theories and therein creates a distraction.
UPDATE - Fermanagh GAA release statement on ban.
We would like to express that notice of yesterdays Media Event in Enniskillen was issued to the National and Provincial...
Dublin manager Jim Gavin refused to speak to RTE earlier this year after a request to provide members of the Dublin backroom staff with footage of recent opponents was either not agreed to or fulfilled, leading Dublin to refuse requests for interviews.
Michael Ryan refused to speak with the media in the wake of their Munster SHC defeat to Limerick last month but he then ended his media ban just two days later citing:
"The reason why I didn't speak to the media on Sunday immediately after the match was a decision we had taken prior to the campaign," he told Tipp FM.
"We took that decision in the light of the fact that we were facing four Sundays in a row. Anything that is a distraction to our hurling is not welcome."
I find it fascinating the differences in approach between a Tipperary hurling manager, and let's say, England football manager Gareth Southgate.
Ryan was heading into a Munster Hurling Championship where his team have won two of the last three championships and he decided that it would be a good idea not to engage with the media to avoid distraction, while Southgate is heading into a 32-team World Cup, his first tournament as manager of a nation that have not won that competition since 1966, and he has a player in Raheem Sterling that has become the subject of a national debate in his home country for having a gun tattoo inked on his leg.
Instead of blocking out the world's media, he invites them in and puts all 23 players in his squad up for media duty.
Where's England's major distraction heading into this summer's tournament?
Failing to engage with the media is simply not an option in English football but in the GAA everything from 'distraction' to 'not receiving video footage' is seemingly a plausible enough reason to not engage with the press.
You have to dig deeper and dive further into why the media is there and what purpose they serve?
The long answer is to hold public figures to account but the simple answer is promotion. The media reports stories on a sport, the stories are read and watched by people and the designed purpose is then for those people to engage with that sport.
In most sports, players and managers are contractually obliged to give pre and post-match television interviews and to attend pre and post-match press conferences.
In the GAA, this whole process appears to be entirely optional.
There's an abundance of examples of players and managers in sports all over the world who would like to do nothing less than talk to a bunch of people with dictaphones and microphones after a match - from Martin O'Neill to Marshawn Lynch - the reluctance is palpable, if not blatantly obvious, but nevertheless they have to abide by the rules they are governed by, whether it's the NFL or UEFA.
The GAA, their county boards and their managers seem to have a lot more freedom with regards to who they want to engage with and when it suits them.
Of course, what we often lose sight of is the amateur nature of where these people come from.
Southgate came into professional football at the time of a popularity boom in English football and where players were regularly required for any number of media obligations on a weekly basis.
As part of a recent production for SportsJOE, we contacted Na Fianna GAA in Dublin about the prospect of filming one of their senior training sessions and arranging a quick interview with Dublin defender Johnny Cooper to discuss the potential loss of the club's main pitch on Mobhi Road.
The club were very helpful in the entire process but we were told by Na Fianna's senior football management that our request would be too much of a distraction ahead of their championship match with St. Vincent's over a week later.
That same week Liverpool were supposed to play Roma in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
I wondered how Jordan Henderson and the Liverpool players could possibly focus on a Champions League semi-final if they engaged in mid-week media activities but somehow a filmed training session and a quick interview with Cooper was deemed to be too much of a distraction for a Dublin GAA side a week before their next club match.
Jordan Henderson is a professional football player and Liverpool captain. There's obligations that come with that role.
Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher by comparison is a manager at SuperValu. It's hard to hold him and others like him in the GAA to the same standard as their professional counterparts in other sports but their amateur status also gives them more of a leash with the media.
It's unclear why the Fermanagh board have allegedly tried to censor Donegal publications but it's another example of growing attempts of censorship and power plays between those within the GAA and those that cover them.
Of course, the GAA are not the only major sporting organisation in Ireland to butt heads with the national, or indeed local media, but their case is interesting.
These are people that play a sport in addition to working a regular job and they often couldn't care less about the wider promotion of their games.
Instead, they're focused on the upcoming match against St. Vincent's, Donegal or whomever their next game may be against.
That could be unfair to the managers and players that do give up their time to the media and do care about promoting their games, but increasingly we're seeing an opposition to the press.
We often hear managers say that they operate 'in a bubble' but will a few lines to journalists really cause their inner sanctums to burst at the seams?
It's a risk they're increasingly not willing to take.
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