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Allow players to get a word in, says GAA chief

By John Campbell

It is nothing more than coincidence but it is entirely appropriate that GAA Director General Paraic Duffy should enter into the public domain at this point in time, via his annual report, strong criticism of the media bans beloved of some GAA managers.

Duffy, never one to mince his words, launches a sharp broadside at such bans, declaring: "This refusal to let players speak to journalists greatly limits the efforts we make to market our games."

And he asks pointedly: "Where is the proven correlation between avoiding the media and winning matches?"

Duffy's strongly-worded sentiments will have considerable resonance here in Ulster.

Prior to the recent All-Ireland club semi-final against St Brigid's, Crossmaglen Rangers PRO Tom McKay confirmed that journalists would not be facilitated in terms of talking to players in advance of the game.

Joint managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill are, of course, under no obligation to make their players available but it would certainly have been helpful had some form of communication machinery been implemented.

On a rather more insidious front, one prominent Down club player was recently heard to dissuade his colleagues from speaking to the media – and this was in the immediate aftermath of what had been a hugely important championship match.

One wonders what the club's officials, supporters and, more pertinently, their sponsors might have made of this.

There are hundreds of clubs throughout the country who would eagerly embrace the media with open arms if they were still playing championship football in the murky depths of November.

Media bans of course have been imposed with utterly farcical results in the past.

On one infamous occasion, a press night in Mayo never even got off the ground as the players were apparently ushered out through a side door while journalists were left standing like lost souls.

In an Ulster context, media bans can undo the excellent work that the provincial council is undertaking in pursuing a vigorous integration policy which seeks to extend the GAA's tentacles into every corner of society.

Paraic Duffy's assertion that "many of our players are extremely articulate, enjoy the interaction with the media and can benefit in various ways," is spot on.

Tyrone are past masters at hosting meaningful and open-ended media get-togethers with manager Mickey Harte invariably giving the lead while in a pre-championship press night last year every Armagh player was made available for interview.

Derry, too, have put in place a mechanism that is working well under new manager Brian McIver while Fermanagh boss Peter Canavan is never less than forthcoming when it comes to accommodating the scribes.

It is to be hoped that Duffy's timely warning will be taken on board and that in a period when the GAA is facing massive challenges because of emigration, the recession and competition from other sports, most notably rugby, its main asset – the players – will not be forced to hide their light under a bushel.

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