Sky TV and social media highlight the changing face of the modern game
More than ever, prominent GAA players find themselves the subject of constant scrutiny
SKY Sports presenters Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney with analysts Jamesie O’Connor (hurling) and Peter Canavan (football). Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The more I hear people complain about the state of things at the start of this summer’s championship, the more I miss being a player getting ready for it.
I hear all this talk of how unstoppable the Dubs are and all I can think of is how much I’d love to have a cut off them. Trying to work out Cluxton’s kick-outs, trying to find a way of stopping Michael Darragh Macauley. What more would you want out of life?
Or better again, people giving out about them playing all their games in Croke Park. Give it a rest. The bit of Kerry arrogance would never let you make a song and dance about the like of that. Sure Kerry built the place! We were filling it to the rafters long before they decided to get in on the act. Bring it on, is the only attitude to have there. Bring. It. On.
Being a player now is different in one big way, though. The level of attention now is completely different to when I finished in 2009, never mind when I started in 1993. The media side of it is a big enough distraction in itself but the social media element is potentially even bigger.
I’d say you can be fairly sure that if I was playing now, I probably wouldn’t be a whole lot more accommodating to the press than I was back then. The phone would be going to voicemail a fair bit in the run up to a game. You can be guaranteed I wouldn’t be on Twitter or Facebook. The Instagram profile would be fairly blank.
The game has changed though. I look at young lads now and they live their whole lives through their social media.
You’d be on a bus going to a game and there’d be total silence with nobody talking to each other – they’re a few seats away from each other and all going back and forth on Twitter. It’s a different world.
Everything is so open now. Everything is out in the world without you even trying. When I started playing for Kerry, there were nearly more local papers down here than national papers in the whole country. And even with that, you were still totally removed from the spotlight. Holed up away in west Kerry, if one of the big Dublin papers had a notion about doing something on you, they really had to want it.
This was pre-mobile phone, pre-internet. There were no forums in those days for a player to read through late at night and be annoying himself. The forum was a few lads down in the pub giving out about you and if you happened to walk in the door, they went quiet and stared into their pints. People would be mortified if they thought you heard them give out about you.
That’s not something people worry about now. When they have a go at some young fella online, they know well that it’s possible – or likely even – that the player will come to hear about it or read it eventually. Part of them will even think that’s a good thing, that at least somebody’s got the guts to call it. One last hero.
In fairness, players mostly stay well away from that stuff now. or if they see it, they wave it off. When so much of your life is online anyway, it can be water off a duck’s back really. They live such open lives that they get used to the odd bad comment.
But the other side of that openness is that everything is so transparent. It’s impossible to keep a secret at intercounty level now. Totally impossible. When I heard the story a few years ago of Jim McGuinness making all the players put their phones into a bag at the top of the room before going through game tactics, I thought it was a bit much. Maybe even an invasion of privacy.
Now? I’d make it compulsory! If I was an intercounty manager, it’d be privacy bedamned. Boys will be boys. Always. The reality of it is that some lads just can’t hold their water. Lay something new out at training and it’ll often be home before you.
Young guys now have more education than we had but less wit. They’re more disciplined in certain areas and less so in others. You rarely have to chase them to do their fitness work but they’re far more questioning about it.
When we were that age, if we were told to do 15 or 20 laps, that was what we did. We did it with a heavy heart and we cut the odd corner when nobody was looking but we did it. These young lads are spending their day going through YouTube for fitness tips. They can find Munster’s training plan at the click of a mouse, they can flick through their phone to see what the San Francisco 49ers or the Miami Heat do. You tell them to go out and do 15 laps and you lose them, just like that.
They’re a different breed now. There’s just not as many of them who will go through a wall for you. They will push themselves in the gym, absolutely. But they’ll do it to keep their numbers up in the app they have to fill in at the end of every session. They’ll do it to improve themselves and make themselves better.
Stand in a dressing room holding up a jersey and banging your chest just won’t get through to players anymore. They won’t go for all that pride in the home place thing. They’re far more likely to get motivated when its explained to them what success can do for them. Build them up. Appeal to their competitive instincts.
Social media gives young players a profile. It makes them well known. Maybe just in one small circle of people but it’s still something they aspire to. They don’t find it odd that they’re sharing bits and pieces of their lives with everyone on the back of it. It’s the complete opposite actually.
It’s amazing how different the generations are. I was talking to a former Kerry player, there a while back and he couldn’t fathom the whole thing. He saw a tweet from a player one night that said something like, “Laying up for the night drinking tea and icing my hamstring.”
My man was scathing. “A nation holds its breath,” he said.
But that’s just how players are now. And the upshot of it is that nothing an intercounty player or manager or team does these days ever happens in private. Because everybody is so keen to share every little bit of their lives, every little thing gets out to the wider public.
That row with Mayo and the supporters club in New York is a perfect example. There was a mix-up somewhere along the way and people thought the team was turning up somewhere it wasn’t. It doesn’t really matter what the ins and outs of it were, what’s interesting is how it came to be such a big deal.
Even just five years ago, that would have been swept under the carpet. There would have been no outrage on Twitter, the worst of it might have been a few lines on a forum and maybe a piece in one of the Mayo papers. You can be damn sure it wouldn’t have ended up with James Horan having to sit down with the county board to explain it all away.
Everything is a big scandal now. Everybody has a cameraphone and a Twitter account so everybody is a potential reporter. I remember coming out of a game against Cork in Killarney one year, walking down to the team meal in the hotel.
A couple of young lads from Cork started giving us abuse and even though we should have let it go, they wouldn’t shut up. So my man went over and got into a square-up with them.
Now, there was nothing in it and it was over in a couple of seconds. But can you imagine if that was today? Somebody would have had their phone out in a flash and the video would have been on Twitter before we’d sat down to our starter.
The papers would have picked it up and it would have made the front pages on the Monday morning. Then the next day, the two young lads would have had their say and the whole thing would have dragged on for a week.
That’s why players have to be so careful now. They have to watch what they say and who they say it to. But because they share everything online, a lot of them just don’t have that instinct. They’re not naturally careful. If anything, they’re naturally the opposite.
It’s going to be interesting to see what living in a Sky Sports world is like. When all the roaring and shouting was going on about whether the Sky deal was good or bad for the GAA, I thought it was interesting that nobody pointed out the effect it will have on players. I can promise you the one group of people delighted to hear Sky were coming on board was intercounty players.
These are young men, the natural audience for Sky. Even in my last few years playing with Kerry, we used kill time at training sessions having a go at the Crossbar Challenge. Being part of that world, however small, brings a bit of excitement to players. A bit more profile, maybe a few hundred more Twitter followers.
All of this is good in a way because it means managers have to be more on their toes. It separates the wheat from the chaff a bit more. The top guys are able to think on their feet, to adapt, to see things coming and work around them. That’s essential when there’s a wild card around like Twitter.
I know I sound like an old geriatric here but I’m serious. Twitter has the potential to affect your team’s season. We give Bomber Liston terrible slagging any time we see him, ever since his Kieran Donaghy tweet before the Munster final last year. He didn’t mean to cause any hassle at all but there was blue murder around the county for two days after it. Any time I run into Bomber now I ask him if there’s any news on Twitter.
This is the age we live in now. In one way, I’d love to be playing. If I had a Twitter account, I wouldn’t have my name on it. The less any opponent knows about me, the more I have in my pocket over them.
But I’d be on it alright, following all the lads I might be coming up against. Working out what makes them tick, looking for weakness. How does he think? What does he think is fair? Who does he admire as a coach? What sort of football does he like? Does he shrink from a bit of rough stuff or does it gee him up and make him play better?
There might be nothing at all in it but one way or another I would form my opinion of this guy and then work out how I’m going to play him. I’d have more to go on than if he kept himself to himself. But there’s no going back. This is where we are and players just see it as a part of their lives, as normal as brushing their teeth.
Better them than me.