The heroes we hardly know

At long last, a visionary has arrived to remedy the glaring hole in our lives. Grant Best of BT Sport — the people who are taking on Sky Sports — is convinced we don’t see enough of the anonymous drones who play in the Premier League.

The heroes we hardly know

Best would like to throw the veil off this sheltered band of brothers. He wants to wheel television cameras into dressing rooms.

“I worked for Sky for a long time and I could never believe why they didn’t somehow force the clubs to have more access.”

So the dream is alive. We may soon know if JT pulls on his shirt first or whether he sits reflectively a while, topless save for the armband. If, that is, Jose elects to give him either.

League boss Richard Scudamore called the idea a gimmick, a ringing endorsement from the man keen to play a ‘39th game’ at venues around the world.

The sense that Scudamore is just cross he hadn’t suggested it first deepened when he told us: “We’ve had a media access working group working on this topic for the last 18 months.”

If these lads can mull, for a year and a half, over more exposure for the most overexposed business on earth, you wonder just where they would start with hurling.

If the 90s brought hurling’s revolution years, we are now in the throes of its faceless renaissance.

As Dónal Óg Cusack put it this week; “If you walked 20 of those Kilkenny lads into a hurling bar, people would name their positions, but wouldn’t be able to distinguish 90% of them.”

The same will go for whoever deposes them next month, and for most of the heroes of a compelling summer. Men whose celebrity stays strictly local.

In a way, there is remarkable freedom in that state of affairs. We heard much from America this week about young Jonathan Manziel, who became, last year, the first freshman to win college football’s Heisman Trophy, the player of the year gong.

Unfortunately, Johnny has since been driven to distraction and seemingly drink by the American media’s obsession with him.

It probably didn’t help the lad’s cause that he enthusiastically embraced the nickname Johnny Football, because he has since become almost bigger than the sport.

Johnny employed a shrink who told him to ‘build walls around himself, to set boundaries.’ But Johnny stopped going to the shrink because he was so busy with his off-field commitments.

When Irish psychiatrists get together, they are unlikely to swap many similar war stories from the hurling world. The walls are already tall. Hurlers have a licence to thrill crowds then disappear into them. But are the walls their own construction?

If some of the media shyness is managerial dictat, that seems an unfair repression of commercial potential. If the fall of recent powers has opened up the championship, it should, too, have beckoned more players forward for promotional work instead of the usual suspects like Henry, Lar and Joe.

But there are few enough faces to go with the names.

Dónal Óg told us recently he detects fear of an ‘undercurrent of malice’ among media types. If one exists, it seems to have washed over public consciousness.

Two of the enduring images from last Sunday featured men we have got to know well. Two losers, as it happens, but only for a day.

If the sport has anything like a Johnny Football, it is Joe Hurling. Joe Canning has embraced the profile his prodigious talent earned. In Sunday’s bitter disappointment, warmth enveloped him; from the youngsters plaguing him for signatures at the whistle, from people everywhere who appreciated his generosity at a low moment.

And when Henry, the most famous of them all, trudged off without a murmur of protest, our only worry was that he wouldn’t be back.

Of course, unlike Johnny Football, Joe and Henry have always behaved themselves in the glare. In turn, they have hardly been damaged by malice or distraction.

Whatever happens with JT and Co, cameras will never force their way into hurling dressing rooms. They will have to be invited, just as they were into Limerick’s last month. The joy in that room is another image that will survive the summer. A rare glimpse of the heroes we hardly know.

Time counties left the football speak for itself

Mick O’Keeffe of Pembroke Communications — one of the country’s top PR men when it comes to selling sport and its heroes — admitted this week that Gaelic football is gaining an image problem.

To be honest, I thought it always had an image problem, but I wouldn’t like to say that to Mick, who lined out, quite stylishly, with the Dubs in his day.

Anyway, Mick thinks the bad rep is unfair, that it’s still a grand game when played right, and it often is.

He also suggests that when compared to the evangelical work of hurling pundits — “who have never seen a bad game” — the culture of carping among their Gaelic counterparts is damaging the sport. All the same, Gaelic didn’t need footballers on the ditch to hurt the brand value this week.

Another of hurling’s triumphs this summer has been the impressive dignity of its managerial class; the studious implacability of Allen, the chortling persuasiveness of Daly, the rock star turned statesman that is JBM.

Even Davy is working a way through the red mist. And you’d like to think Brian Gavin’s patience on Sunday was recognition of the efforts he is making.

Battles have been fought on the field, not with sound bytes. Gaelic football, meanwhile; not so much.

We might have known that the sport would eventually find a fresh avenue for the rooting and tearing and cynicism.

The mind games.

This week the finest thinkers in the Donegal and Mayo camps combined to fill any void in the thrilling practice of psychological warfare that might have been created by Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

Unfortunately, much of their work also demeaned the game they are playing.

At the end of it, there can only be one winner. It will hardly be football.

Once wily Wenger running to a standstill

There will be much more of the blessed mind games in store from soccer managers, once the serious business starts. But for now there is some enjoyment — and a little insight — to be had in their musings, at least when they are released from the interminable tedium of transfer speculation.

Arsene Wenger was in Japan this week, where he got lost on a jog. When he eventually resurfaced, he held court on the values of motivation.

“I was motivated to come back to the hotel, but I couldn’t find my way. So, I was highly motivated and slowly I found my way back. For me that is a very underrated quality. I could have said: ‘Right, I can’t find my way back to the hotel, so let’s see if I can find a taxi.’ But because I’m a sportsman, I decided not to get a taxi and that I would find my way back, no matter how long it would take me, so I continued to run.”

Of course, Arsenal supporters might also point out, that if you want to go places in a hurry, you might, eventually, have to stump up for a cab.

Perhaps that’s something Arsene will also have to accept in the coming fortnight. Or it might, finally, be taxi for Wenger.

HEROES & VILLAINS

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Rory Delap: Turned up on Sky Sports News this week to open a window into his special talent. “I’ve always been able to throw things far; javelins, golf balls, stones, whatever.”

Chris Hughton: The words of the transfer window: “The only sensible time to announce something is when you’ve got something to announce.”

TO HELL IN A HANDCART

Jim White: Excitement’s poster boy warmed up for deadline day by zooming around Premier League grounds in a helicopter, to no obvious avail. Maybe we’re just not ready for it all to return yet.

Jan Ullrich: Give Lance his seven jerseys back? You might as well condemn the sport to the seven circles of hell.

Doncaster Rovers: Signing Louis Tomlinson; there’s only one direction they can go for this wheeze. Down.

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