Posted by Shane Stapleton

Shane Stapleton speaks with our GAA ambassadors about dealing with the media and how sometimes less is more

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It’s not good to talk: that’s the impression you sometimes get when speaking with inter-county folk.

There are two sides to every story though. The media and public want stories but can inflate them if the steak needs something, though too often the cheap ketchup that is exaggeration ruins the taste. On the other hand, interviewees may remain tight-lipped and downface the truth in order to minimise the chances of a big story, thus peppering the article with blandness.

The pity is that trust has been so badly damaged at this point, and suspicion reigns from both sides. Because players like reading honest interviews from other players as much as the public does. Understanding and enjoying characters and opinions is a great part of sport when it’s allowed to breathe freely.

Donegal captain Michael Murphy explains to us the nature of the business, and his thoughts on how James Horan and Jim Gavin have conducted their affairs in the media spotlight; both managers, it is often said, are considered to be rather economical with their true feelings.

“I think both teams have conducted themselves very well in the media, and it’s something you have to do because there’s a need for it,” says Murphy. “Everything you say is scrutinised so much that you have to answer a question as honestly as you can but be careful at the same time.

“There is a slight fear in players and management teams in what to say and it’s an issue that has cropped up in the last few years in particular. Teams set up the way they want to speak because if you say something one way or the other, a story is going to be made out of it — make no doubt about it. It can be thrown up on the dressing room walls for motivation if something out of order is said.

“That’s just the way the game has gone and it’s unfortunate the way it has gone. You don’t gain from saying very little but you don’t lose anything. You answer the questions as best you can but I don’t know how much you can come out and say what you really, really feel.

“Just be as honest as you can without being stupid and reckless. It’s something that everyone has to understand.”

Just as there is on the pitch, so too off it tactics are put in place. It must be pointed out that not all journalists and media outlets will exacerbate the truth for a good story, but there seems to be a blanket suspicion. On both sides.

A player or manager may lower his guard somewhat when speaking one-on-one because they may feel as though a single interviewer brings accountability; when a thicket of microphones is under their nose, it seems to bring that safeguard right back up.

“I think there’s no harm in being cute but I don’t think you gain anything,” says Donie Shine. “The problem is that if you say too much, it can come back to haunt you.”

“It’s just being cautious,” adds Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper. “They don’t want to say anything that may come out wrong. I don’t think there’s anything holding them back. They just don’t want to draw much attention to themselves and that’s fair enough.”

The general consensus after Dublin’s semi-final win over Gooch’s Kerry was that Ciaran Kilkenny had been withdrawn from the fray during the second half because he had underperformed.

Manager Gavin’s appraisal of the decision was interesting: “I wouldn’t look at it at all like that. I thought he played very well, and what we had asked him to do. You (the journalist who posed the question) mightn’t have seen it, but what we asked of him, he did exactly that, so I couldn’t be more pleased by his contribution.”

Perhaps the Dubs boss felt that was the case, or maybe it was better to be supportive in public for fear of ‘Gavin doubts Kilkenny’ headlines. Looking at it from a Dublin point of view, his stance is understandable, even if this type of response can be frustrating for both writers and readers alike.

As Ciaran Whelan explains, sometimes you can’t win whether you tell the truth or withhold it. “I think we’ve seen already this week some journalist trying to take an anti-Dublin line and that’s life, that’s part and parcel of being in the capital,” says Whelan.

“If Dublin say nothing, people will find a way of criticising; if they say loads, people will find a way of criticising. It’s a no-win situation.

“I think from a Dublin perspective, they’ve approached it very professionally this year. The people in Dublin are very supportive of Jim Gavin’s game-plan and if he delivers an All-Ireland on the basis of attacking, open football, there’s very little criticism that can be thrown at this group. We’ll only know on Sunday afternoon if they are the facts.”

Because of the pitfalls associated with speaking in the media, Tyrone boss Mickey Harte explains how teams prepare for it. “Players have got to be trained in that now,” explains the three-time All-Ireland winning manager. “People will use things people say innocently to raise the temperature of their players the next time they meet them.

“It’s good to be careful in your language at all times anyway. Be constructive by all means. Give information that’s valued and don’t be clichéd. But you have to be careful not to give your opponents some added incentive to want to beat you. If you respect the opposition and have a degree of modesty about yourselves, then players won’t go too far wrong.”

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