Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

GAA chief: We must learn how to spread the word

Paraic Duffy, at Croke Park, takes a moment to reflect on the future of his vibrant sport

June 5, 2012 and Boston Celtics are turning the screw on Miami Heat in game five of the NBA play-offs with a 94-90 success.

Paul Pierce is burning up the court, draining three-pointers and the occasion has all the razzmatazz of a big-time ball game.

GAA Director-General Paraic Duffy is in his element, bouncing on the bleachers. Every June he takes a holiday and more often than not, ends up at a sporting contest involving the Red Sox or the Celtics. His teams.

One element leaves him amazed though. At half-time, Celtics coach 'Doc' Rivers says a few words of an interview as he leaves the court. So do some of his players.

American athletes, Duffy realises, know the promotion game. They realise their responsibilities to talk up their product in a most commercially-driven country.

Lamentably, his own association are mired in an unhappy and unfulfilling marriage between sport and media.

In his recent annual report, Duffy notes: "One of the most frustrating problems we encounter is the media ban that some counties impose on players prior to major games; this refusal to let players speak to journalists greatly limits, and undermines, the efforts we make to market our games."

Part of the problem, Duffy feels now, is the power that inter-county managers wield within their county borders. He doesn't see attitudes evolving to that which prevail in American sport any time soon.

"We are miles from that. We are terrible. I'm not anti-manager, but they have too much control. Players should be allowed to do that, what is it all about anyway?"

He continues: "One of the privileges of the job is that you get to meet the top players. I think most of the players like being asked their views. They like seeing their name in the paper, their picture in the paper.

"Plus the fact that a lot of our players are very smart, they are very articulate. These guys have gone to college, and managers are stopping them."

As access to players diminishes, Duffy feels that it is not only the media who are complicit in lavishing too much attention on team managers.

"That's not just a GAA thing," he explains. "It's a society thing. You see it in soccer, in rugby, with what is happening to Declan Kidney. That's just the way things are in society and what happens in society affects us.

"There's no point complaining about it, there's no point complaining to the media about it, but some of it we have done to ourselves.

"I think at times we have allowed managers too much control and that's down to our own lack of leadership.

"We needn't complain about the media building up managers. We need our counties to establish working and productive relationships with managers."

A short while ago, one inter-county coach accused the GAA of 'hoodwinking' the public over the forthcoming proposals from the Football Review Committee (FRC); that the support for them was in some way choreographed.

Duffy defends his own personal stance, noting that while he is broadly in favour of the proposed changes, there are elements such as extending the length of a game at club level, and the 'hooter' to help with time-keeping, that he sees no great need for.

On the level of criticism of the proposals, Duffy asks: "Where did the opposition come from?

"Unfortunately the media have something to answer in this because when a set of proposals come out about the game the first people they run to are inter-county managers.

"My point is, there is far more to our games than inter-county games. It has to be sensible in terms of everybody playing the game."

Duffy adds: "Sometimes football is a very good game, sometimes it is not. I see too many games of pulling and dragging.

"Now, how do you repair it? In my view, this committee has made a very honest effort and have identified good ideas."

Ahead of the annual Congress in Derry on the 22nd and 23rd of this month, support for the FRC proposals has been growing. Incidents in televised matches last weekend could be enough to tip the balance.

It will please Duffy if this transpires.

He adds: "I make no apologies for supporting them."

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