COLM COOPER: Adapting to punditry life this side of the fence

I can stand over my comments because I know, hand on heart, I’m not trying to stick a knife into any fella. Because I’ve been that fella. Pundits have said I was the best in the country. And they’ve given me flak and urged me to retire, writes Colm Cooper.

What sort of game have I got myself into? This punditry business is part about education but also, it’s clear, about entertainment and controversy and showbiz.Every week, the TV ‘experts’ create stories and start rows and fill column inches.

Every week, the TV ‘experts’ create stories and start rows and fill column inches.

This week it was the hurling lads, though it wasn’t entirely down to Michael Duignan or Henry Shefflin that a storm blew up over their comments about the sweeper tactic.

It was surprising to see Davy Fitzgerald vent his feelings so emotionally, though we can never be too surprised by anything Davy does.

Every manager, in football and hurling, at some point has a issue with something a pundit says about their team. I’ve heard enough of them complain away from the microphones.

But they are usually so guarded the public never gets to know. They bottle it up, because what’s to gain from starting a high-profile barney?

Especially, like in Davy’s case, when you’re out of the championship. If you’re looking for a reaction, a spark, it’s too late.

The Wexford manager is certainly entitled to his view. Maybe he has bottled up unhappiness at how his tactics are being covered all summer.

But criticism and scrutiny comes with the territory. Same in every sport. Davy has given Wexford a higher profile, so they are under the spotlight more this year. They come under the microscope. Try being a Kerry footballer. The microscope operates all year round.

Maybe your view of the ‘war of words’ between Davy and Michael will be coloured by which side of the fence you stand. And I’ve only recently jumped the fence, baby, as Eamon Dunphy might put it.

It’s just been four months and it’s been an eye-opener. At times, I’ve wondered am I cut out for it.

I’ve heard Paul Kerrigan, and a few other Cork voices, have a go at the Kerry voices in the media and been a little taken aback.

Then you see stories like the interview with Kildare’s Daniel Flynn during the week. He discussed his miss in the Leinster final and it was clearly put to him, at whatever media event it was, that Gooch said ‘you should have rolled it in the corner’. That kind of thing.

So it’s not always comfortable when your criticism is thrown in the face of a young player in that way. That’s the platform you have.

But you can’t be too sensitive about it.

Same as you can’t be too sensitive to criticism as a player or a manager. Or you won’t last too long in the GAA.

I can stand over my comments because I know, hand on heart, I’m not trying to stick a knife into any fella. Because I’ve been that fella. Pundits have said I was the best in the country. And they’ve given me flak and urged me to retire. Fighting with them was never going to be any help to me.

Looking back at the Leinster final, the right thing, in Flynn’s position, was probably a sidefoot into the corner. He knows it himself. I know it. But I have to tell the viewers. Cian O’Neill might have said the exact same thing to him in training next time they met up. But nobody will hear that conversation.

The Kerry thing will always be thrown in. Of course I’ll travel to Croke Park tomorrow wanting Kerry to win. I’m still adjusting to life as a Kerry supporter.

But at the same time, I’m in the media to give an impartial view. Pro Kerry won’t wash. It’s not real. People picking up the paper or watching TV are knowledgeable. They know what’s fake, as they can’t stop saying in America.

When I retired, it was a quick text to the WhatsApp Group. “Thanks for everything lads. It’s been a great journey. I’m sure you’ll have better journeys again.” Deleted myself. Gone. The quicker you move on from that space the better.

I don’t meet the Kerry boys regularly. I make it my business not to ask them about football. I talk golf, town, work whatever. I don’t ask them who’s going well in training. Who’s injured. I’m on the other side. I don’t ring Eamonn Fitzmaurice the week before a match to say best of luck.

If we meet at a wedding, a social event, of course you’ll have a pint, if they’re still talking to you.

That’s the way it has to be in Kerry. I think it should be that way everywhere, though I’m not sure it always is.

Life moves on.

As for the sweeper debate itself, hurling seems to be getting a taste of what football has had for a lot of the last decade.

Five years ago, most pundits were up in arms about the blanket defence and the extra defender, now it’s nearly the norm. You move with the times or get left behind. The clever teams adapt quicker than others.

But hurling is a little bit different. More resistant to changes like the black card.

It always seems a much more physical game to me. You see lads line each other up and clean each other out. But there’s almost an acceptance of that.

A high tackle in football, people are looking for every different colour of a card. If it’s hurling, it’s ah sure, they are just honest lads going in hard.

Sometimes I raise an eyebrow.

But I’m not a hurler, so who am I to say what they should or shouldn’t be doing?

It’s a bit soon, this side of the fence, for a war of words with Davy.


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