The French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once wrote “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and that is certainly true of the GAA in 2018 as we head into the this brave new world.
Everything has changed for the GAA this summer; a new championship structure now means more games than ever, while all these games are being played over a shorter period of time. The All-Ireland finals will be in August for the first time since 1903 and of course we have the new Super 8’s format.
Although the new structure is only in its early stages, the first responses from fans has been warm, as all the action is coming at them thick and fast for once.
While everything seems to be different as we head into this year’s championship, two things have reared their ugly head like they do every year, pundits focusing on how poor games have been and criticising how teams set themselves out.
The other is the good old media ban. While Leitrim have enacted a media ban to avoid distraction ahead of their Connacht semi-final against Roscommon, Tipperary are the first big name county team to impose a media ban in the wake of their round one Munster championship defeat to Limerick.
Now Michael Ryan’s media ban lasted a little over 24 hours when it was due to last until June 10th, with Ryan saying it added an unwelcome burden on his Tipp team and he decided to end the media ban before it affected his side.
What this highlights is that although so much has changed in the GAA over the past few months, some of the old demons from the past are here to stay for another year at least, and can we learn anything from previous media bans from summers gone by.
The first ban on this list shows just how innocently a media ban can start off and begin to gain some steam over a couple of weeks.
At the launch of the 2014 Ulster Championship Armagh sent assistant manager Peter McDonnell to represent The Orchard County.
McDonnell spent over two hours at the championship launch and nobody from the media during that time spoke to him. McDonnell later relayed his experience to Grimley who later said “if nobody’s interested in what we have to say then we’ll not be saying anything to anybody”.
Grimley decided to suspend all media duties until after the first round of the Ulster championship against Cavan. During the parade prior to the beginning of that match a brawl broke out involving the majority of the players and Cavan’s Martin Dunne was injured preventing him from playing.
Annoyed by the media reaction to the brawl which Grimley stated put the blame on the Armagh players; he decided to impose a selective media ban, which extended to all media from the island of Ireland, until after Armagh exited the championship.
This came to ahead when Armagh pulled out of a scheduled press conference before the All-Ireland quarter finals with Donegal.
Armagh legend Oisín McConville heavily criticised this decision stating that “it smacks of a county that’s looking for headlines rather than trying to shy away from them”. McConville would say that “it doesn’t help the PR of Armagh; it doesn’t help the sponsors or the team, but this stuff is just a distraction and it won’t help”.
Ultimately Armagh were knocked out at the All Ireland quarter final stage and a week later Paul Grimley spoke to RTÉ about the ban, saying it had “little effect on the team, either positive or negative and was never mentioned between management and the players”.
Trust the Dubs to come up with some sort of hybrid media ban, after their demolition of Westmeath in the Leinster Football Championship Jim Gavin decided not to undertake one-to-one broadcast interviews in the wake of the Diarmuid Connolly furore.
Gavin granted interviews with print journalists, while cameras were permitted to be present, there was no one-to-one interviews allowed.
Gavin decided to impose the ban for one round of the championship after he believed Connolly’s good name was affected by the criticism he received from certain parts of the media, in particular The Sunday Game pundits Pat Spillane and Colm O’Rourke.
Gavin stated that “We had the national broadcaster, in their post-match review, both Pat Spillane and Colm O’Rourke, but particularly Pat, read out a predetermined statement”.
Many were disappointed by Dublin and Gavin’s reaction to the furore, with many fans and pundits feeling that it was only bringing the Connolly incident back into the public spotlight.
Gavin returned to taking one-on-one interviews after the Leinster Championship final against Kildare.
While many thought that Dublin’s troubles with the media were over as we headed into 2018, it turns out this could just be the beginning of Dublin media bans as during the National League campaign Dublin refused RTÉ access to management and players.
The reason for this new ban was due to a request to provide members of the Dublin backroom team with footage of recent opponents was not agreed to or fulfilled, ultimately leading Dublin to refuse interview requests.
While this ban has since been lifted, don’t be surprised to see the Dubs enact another media ban during this year’s championship.
Now to a ban which focused on the exclusion of one journalist from any pre or post match press briefing. Peter O’Connell, a journalist with the Clare Champion, was excluded after an altercation with then Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald after a hurling qualifier draw against Wexford.
Fitzgerald wrote a letter to the editor of the Clare Champion after the altercation in Cusack Park. The incident took place nearly an hour after the match ended an irate Davy had to be held back as he was unhappy with an article written by O’Connell in the aftermath of Clare’s Munster championship defeat to Cork.
Davy accused O’Connell of trying to destroy Clare hurling and succeeding. O’Connell would later appear on RTÉ Radio to discuss the altercation stating that “he was looking quite agitated to put it mildly and pointing and gesticulating and he had quite a bit to say, much of which I can’t repeat”.
Davy would eventually allow O’Connell to attend press briefings again and the two even sat down for a one-to-one interview together in 2015, but this incident/ban did nothing to help people’s opinion of the Sixmilebridge man.
Now to perhaps the strangest media ban the GAA has seen yet, in early 2017 the Wexford county board decided to implement a ban on members of the media attending county board meetings. The county board stated that
“Wexford GAA will issue a bulletin as soon as possible after every Management and County Board meeting, as follows:
To every Club, via email (by the Co. Sec)
To local media sports editors, via email (by the PRO)
To the wider world, via social media (by the PRO)”
So basically when you need to know something they’ll let you know. Members of the media would be allowed into meetings for certain events such as championship draws but only if they were invited by the county PRO.
This type of media ban was seen as highly unusual and heavily criticised by a number of Wexford clubs, who wanted the decision to go to a vote instead and felt that it was giving off the wrong impression of Wexford GAA and if they wanted to promote GAA in the county they would need the media to do so.
As of this writing this ban is still in place in Wexford, thankfully it has not caught on in other counties where media are still allowed to go and revel in the joy of a county board meeting.
Here to stay
So what can these different types of media bans tell us about the GAA in 2018, well a couple of things.
Media bans are enacted by many counties for various reasons, but let’s be honest they are usually done for very petty reasons, most often when a county hasn’t got what they wanted or are unhappy with reporting and have decided to throw their toys out of the pram, as they regularly rescind the ban after getting what they wanted.
Although former players like Marc Ó Sé believe that bans can work in the lead up to big games he sees no real issue with players talking to media.
In the case of Armagh that we previously mentioned, Paul Grimley stated that his media ban had no impact positive or negative on his team, what it did bring was unwanted attention towards a county and its players and just because it didn’t affect one team doesn’t mean it won’t affect the next.
So what can the head honchos in Croke Park do about media bans, well right now not a lot, and if a motion is brought before congress next year relating to media bans, I can’t see it getting passed anytime soon, so the media ban is here to stay, what did Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr say earlier, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” yeah that’s about right.
Columnist with the GAA Wrap.