Co-operation is key when it comes to GAA and media access
‘What we are conscious of is trying to streamline the media operation as best we can’
RTÉ’s Damien O’Meara interviews Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy at Cusack Park in Ennis. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Few major sporting organisations other than the GAA could claim to be “in a parallel universe” to what unfolded at the French Open this week in terms of media-player relationships: the obvious reason being any such contractual obligations simply do not exist – never have, and never likely will.
As a still strictly amateur organisation, all such engagement is based not on any requirement or indeed demand, but rather willingness and good deed. As long as it stays amateur, that should long continue.
Alan Milton, the GAA’s director of communications, is in a unique situation to assess all that given he trained and worked as a GAA journalist, before turning to the GAA’s orchestration of media relations: nothing that happened with Naomi Osaka has him looking over his shoulder at what might be coming down the track.
“I can’t say that will never change, but I certainly don’t feel any change is imminent,” he says. “And especially not on the back of say one incident like this. I don’t think any other sports will see a great shift in that direction either.
“I also think we [the GAA] are operating in a different eco-system, or maybe comparing apples with oranges. We also work hard not to over-promise anything to our broadcast or media partners. All we say is that we will do our best to facilitate, but we can’t guarantee managers or players, and I think everyone involved is very understanding of that scenario.
“And in fairness the co-operation has been incredible, there have been very few occasions when that willingness to co-operate hasn’t been there.
“Some managers or players will always be a little more willing than others, and maybe feel they can help build their own profile over the back of some of it, others less so, but either way we are respectful of that.”
Indeed while all such engagement, pre- or post-match, is not something the GAA take for granted, it’s rarely turned down: “It is part of the fabric really, and we know it’s not the priority of any manager or player, who already give so much over in preparation for our games, and the level they play them at. This is another responsibility that thankfully they do take on.
“What we are conscious of is trying to streamline the media operation as best we can. I know from a recent experience in the Emirates Stadium, during Arsene Wenger’s time, and he would do 12 rounds of interviews in his post-match obligations. We would certainly never ask that. Even if the managers were contracted in some way, you’d have to ask what level of answers you’d get by the 11th or 12th round of interview.
“I also think one of the points professional sports people seem to be making is that they think they can communicate with the legion of followers via their own channels, and while that may also be true of our own amateur sports people, it’s not their primary application, it’s not their bread and better, so there’s not the same emphasis on the need to do that.
“Of course if they wish to comment in that way they’re also entirely free to do so, but by and large, most of our players have grown up watching these interviews around our games, and maybe have a respectful relationship with the media, or at least there tends to be in most instances.
“We do still have a few pools of interviews for them to do, and again I have to acknowledge their level of co-operation is almost without fail. Sometimes if they’re rushing for a bus or train that might be the issue, real world issues in other words.
“With the French Open, it seems to have gone from a very black and white situation of doing media, to doing no media. We may see a situation where we’re doing more pooled interviews, which would mean less interviews, but again I can’t reiterate enough how well they co-operate, and that’s perhaps another unique dimension to our games.”
Milton’s years as a GAA reporter overlapped with a time post-match access included the team dressingroom.
“I can remember as well one of my first forays as a full-time reporter was Dublin against Kerry in Killarney, in 2001, and Páidí Ó Sé, God rest him, was only out of the shower when we were sticking our microphones in front of him. We knew as well we had to start doing things in a different way, and respect some of the privacy that comes with a losing or winning dressingroom. I think that was well received from players and managers.”