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Managers must let players speak, or forever hold their peace

On Wednesday morning, the GAA were holding a promotional event for the launch of the upcoming Higher Education competitions with a number of collegiate athletes in attendance for the usual photo opportunity, including Limerick’s All-Ireland winning forward Seamus Flanagan and Tipperary stopper Brian Hogan.

In what is usually a routine event, with journalists given the opportunity to fill some column inches with sound bites from those partaking, the writers were left disappointed and not-at-all surprised that one player, Brian Hogan, was under instruction from Tipperary management not to speak to the media about any Tipperary related matters. With all due respect to UCD, the college Hogan represents, the topic of Tipperary is a rather more interesting one at the moment from the listening public’s point of view.

It’s not the first time this has occurred, and should intercounty managers continue their form it most certainly won’t be the last.

Managers have been placing their panels under media prohibition for years now. As recently as last year, Liam Sheedy’s predecessor Michael Ryan had his players’ lips sealed after a losing start to their Munster championship campaign against Limerick. The ban lasted a little over 24 hours. Dublin footballers have often been under lock and key, while Armagh imposed their own ban in 2014 after nobody spoke to assistant manager Peter McDonnell at the launch of the Ulster championship.

READ | The curious case of the GAA media ban

Imposing media bans do have a time and a place. It’s completely understandable for managers to limit access to players ahead of a crucial match, or after a demoralising defeat, and protect their interests from public scrutiny. But denying access to players before the league has even begun lacks common sense and does more harm than good from an outside perspective. Instead of Hogan having the opportunity to wax lyrical about his new manager and the challenge of the year ahead, everybody is talking about what he didn’t say, or more so what he wasn’t allowed to say.

It’s been an increasing trend in recent times where we are hearing and seeing more from the managers than we are the players that are attracting the crowds. More and more managers are filing into TV punditry, column writing and public speaking events around the country. The players are made stood beyond a concrete wall, unable to display their true personality at the hindrance of their own personal growth within the Irish public prism. This, damaging potential earning through speaking and sponsorship.

When you think about it, there aren’t many great personalities around the GAA anymore, personalities that aren’t sitting in the TV studio at least. Is this because they don’t exist, out of the hundreds of players currently lining up every weekend in venues across the country, or because they are not allowed to flourish? We can listen intently to players like Cian Lynch, but weren’t he such a mercurial player on the pitch would he be given a chance to be himself off the field as well?

Imposing media bans is an unnecessary protocol that has leaked into the culture of the game, for no reason other than the very off chance of some information being linked, or the headline being pinned in the dressing room spiel. It harms the players futures, the promotion of the game itself and twists a negative spin on teams’ intentions when it could so easily be avoided.

If the players are comfortable enough, let them speak. Most would be clever enough not to give too much away. We’ve spent long enough listening to Geoff Shreeves receive cliched answers to even more trivial questions – why should GAA players not be allowed do the same?

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