Why do GAA players care if their words are plastered on a dressing room wall?

GAA people hide under a blanket of artificial respect for their opponents when really it's just patronising

Why do GAA players care if their words are plastered on a dressing room wall?

Image: Youtube

In conversation with a seasoned GAA reporter recently, I was regaled with stories about the times when the media were given access to dressing rooms after the All-Ireland final.

'Great colour' was the phrase used to describe the demeanour of the players when the recorder was switched on and nothing was withheld when the questions were asked. I can't comment on whether or not that dressing room tradition has been outlawed, but the colour in the words has surely faded.

Something has infiltrated the atmosphere over the years to create a breed of reserved managers and players. Now, we have 'media managers,' 'post-match press conferences' and the term that makes me shudder the most - 'media bans.'

How did we get to this?

Have relations between those in the GAA and the media become so fragmented that they would rather ream off polished statements than be upfront and tell us what they really think?

Are the players and managers really concerned that their statements that make it to the final edit will be planted on a dressing room wall to provoke ire in an opposing team?

When you hear mangers refer to a match they won by ten points as a "tough game," it's a lamentable reflection of where the GAA is at right now. Lie detectors would explode if they were wired up. 

They call it respect when really, it's just patronising regardless of the sincerity in their voice.

It seems as though the practise of speaking honestly and disrespectfully are no longer mutually exclusive. But how anyone on the losing side of a heavy defeat could feel offended by the winners calling it what it is - an easy win - is just delusional. 

And yet that appears to be the culture that has been cultivated in recent years. Even the whisper of confidence coming from a player has morphed into something that puts a curse on the team and will condemn you to failure.

When you win a game, it's easy to attribute the win to whatever you like. And when you lose, all the choices you made in the build-up become glaringly erroneous. 

Above is an image of the former Galway manager John O'Mahony in the excellent documentary A Year Til Sunday, informing his players that the team have been described as "Fancy Dans" who "get the simple things wrong."

That team went on to become the unlikely All-Ireland winners in 1998 and simultaneously disproved the "Fancy Dans" theory.

But do you honestly think that that article was a prominent factor behind their success? Or is it just that hindsight empowers you to link your wins back to any step in the process, no matter how insignificant?

It's anecdotally rumoured that an image of Aidan O'Shea celebrating in the face of Galway players during their encounter in last year's Connacht championship was hoisted up in a Galway dressing room for motivation. Galway overturned that result earlier this year, but could it not be possible that the status of the game was enough to inspire them?

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

And so what if an opposition cuts out the extract of an interview and blow it up 10x10? There's almost no guarantee that it will become a winning tonic for them. Teams have often employed this tactic and lost, after which you can presume that the articles are torn up in the anticipation of fresh inflammatory comments to restore the anger levels.

And the hideous cycle goes on until a victory is recorded and the whole process is somehow vindicated.

Contrast that with an anecdote Henry Shefflin referred to in his weekly column yesterday. He recalls a team meeting during the 2008 championship when his colleague Michael Kavanagh spoke up.

"There was no eye contact from anyone in the room, but discreetly I was being held to account for my performance levels that summer."

"Some of our so called top players...

"I remember gritting my teeth as I sat, bristling. I'm sure I raised a few chippings in the car park afterwards with the haste of my departure. Deep down I was seething. I knew there was merit in what Michael had said, and I demanded a reaction from myself for the rest of the week.

"'I'm going to show these lads how much I'll be back,' I told myself over and over again."

This is a different situation. This is one player indirectly calling out another to give more. The words of a teammate resonate much louder than the words or actions of outsiders.

The art of pointing to articles on the wall and shouting "look at what they're saying about you" is unlikely to ever die out, but in reality, it's just good colour.