MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: In US sport, Head Office calls all the shots

I’ll finish talking about my trip to America sometime soon, but I refer to one interesting conversation before the moratorium kicks in.

Chatting to an American sportswriter, I said the perceived wisdom over here was that access to athletes in the States was far better than it is here, but he disagreed.

In terms of the big sports, he said that baseball was getting better, having been relatively tricky for quite some time; that American football operated at its own level, given its popularity, but was okay to deal with, all things considered; but that basketball was, had been for some time, and continued to be, by far the easiest to deal with in terms of athlete access.

This was a broad-brushstroke chat, and he stressed that his opinions were a general overview of how those sports organisations dealt with the media, obviously, rather than a minutely detailed breakdown of each individual club, coach and player.

However, one of his points related to the significance of the lead being given from the top - in this case, the league head office and/or commissioner: if the head man or woman was in favour of a more open policy then that filtered out to the teams themselves (and, ah, downwards to the hacks).

In that regard basketball’s long-standing commitment to spreading its gospel, as espoused by long-time commissioner David Stern, had led directly to its favourable ratings among the fourth estate.

The temptation is to compare the sports here with those big American hitters, and to see whether the head office in each case exercises due influence over the quality of media access and exposure.

(There isn’t time here to convey the importance of this topic to supporters of every sport, though the intelligent fan understands instantly the value of a journalist bringing clear-eyed appraisal to a sport rather than the panting of a fan or the compromises of a commercial ‘partnership’.) You can have hours of fun comparing the GAA to Major League Baseball, or the IRFU to the NBA, or whatever you’re having yourself, but one monumental own goal would have to colour your views of the FAI’s leadership.

Bad enough that Martin O’Neill made that ‘queers’ comment a couple of weeks ago but the Blairite apology issued afterwards, which had all the sincerity one associates with the world of PR cyborgs?

“If I had made inappropriate comments, then I obviously apologise,” ran said statement. “I will attempt during the rest of my time not to make such inappropriate comments.”

Leaving the mangled tenses aside, what you’d love to have heard from O’Neill was: “Almost the minute I had said it, I realised that I should not have said that, absolutely. I should not have said it. You are right to criticise me, believe it or not. Absolutely.

“It was inappropriate and I could not genuinely be more sorry, that’s the case.”

That was O’Neill at a press conference a couple of days after the incident, and the difference between someone expressing genuine regret and the Random Corporate Cliche Generator could hardly be greater.

As mentioned, the lead comes from the very top.

Making sense of number crunching

Coming soon to a spot near here: a chat with Micah Cohen, among others. Cohen is the deputy editor with www.fivethirtyeight.com, the website which brings data to the masses in culture, science, economics, politics - and sport.

I met him on a recent visit to New York (which is in no way being mentioned too often here) and we had a good chat about various matters, such as the great orange man himself, Donald Trump.

It was interesting to hear Cohen talk about the flak that 538.com drew for saying, early on in Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination, that he had perhaps a five percent chance of winning that nomination, with critics shaking their heads about the website’s focus on data blinding it to the obvious.

Cohen pointed out, however, something with a five percent chance of happening actually happens five percent of the time, of course, adding that sports fans have a more intuitive understanding of those percentages than political nerds, for want of a better term.

Cohen gave the example of a basketball team leading by 10 points with a minute left on the clock; if you say that team has a 90 percent chance of winning then you understand and accept that in one game in 10, then, the leaders get overhauled.

I don’t intend that to frighten you ahead of the American Presidential election.

Just to help you feel superior the next time you talk psephology with your pals.

Farewell to a childhood hero

The passing of John Horgan of Blackrock and Cork will be revisited in these pages soon. For this observer Horgan, with the flowing blond hair, remains a distinct part of a Leeside boyhood in the 70s.

His immaculate long striking and superb positional sense - the latter obvious even to a small kid - made him an integral part of the great Cork side which collected five consecutive Munster titles in that decade. His free-taking from long range helped Cork significantly, in particular winning a tight Munster final over Clare in 1978. Hearing last week from a colleague Horgan was very unwell didn’t soften the blow when news filtered through over the weekend.

The heroes of your childhood have a permanent seat in your pantheon, and nothing illustrates the way time passes, perhaps, like their passing on.

Even in recent years Horgan’s hairstyle was immediately recognisable, resistant to time and fashion alike, which makes that news still hard to believe.

A great player, gone from the stage. Ar dheis De go raibh se.

Seeing may help you believe

The song remains the same, as Led Zeppelin used to say. Another summer, another limp start to the GAA championship. No sooner has it started, of course, than people start muttering about formats and leagues and alternatives.

This is an all too inevitable invitation to feign death until it’s over, as a Gary Larson cartoon put it once upon a time. When that odd person sits next to you on the train, the one surefire way to send them on their way to the dining car for the duration is to ask their opinion of the ‘champions league format’ in comparison with the ‘integrated league and championship model’.

No-one can withstand the conversation-killer which is the championship format, but later this week we’ll be presenting that rare beast, the easily understood and clearly delineated alternative championship model.

It’s from New Graphic, a graphic design company based in Dublin. The pedigree is good and the visuals compelling.


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