MIKE QUIRKE: Don’t let the ‘influencers’ suck the joy out of football

Carlow players celebrating their win over Kildare on Sunday. They now face Laois in the Leinster semi-final

Once upon a time, former senior manager Jack O’Connor thought it would be a good idea to bring in a sport psychologist to do a group session with the Kerry players of the last decade.

It didn’t quite pan out like he had hoped. After about 45 minutes of players sniggering and giggling their way through a barrage of buzz words and zingy phrases, the sports psychologist eventually took his beating and called it quits about a half an hour early.

It was like when you’re a kid sitting in Mass, you know you shouldn’t be laughing, but something sets you off, and the more you try to stop yourself the more uncontrollable it becomes.

I’m sure it’s an old one, but he told us one brief story that has stuck in my head to this day, I suppose that was the whole point. It was about the difference between how people view the exact same set of circumstances and how your perspective can play a powerful role in deciding whether you see a problem or an opportunity.

Many years ago, two salesmen were sent to some far-flung destination from the same shoe manufacturer to examine if there would be any potential to develop and expand into a new market. The first salesman was quickly on the phone back to his boss — “forget about this place, zero potential here, nobody even wears shoes over here”.

The second salesman took a slightly different angle — “huge opportunity for growth, absolutely nobody even wears shoes over here”.

I suppose the story is all about your own perspective, are you a glass half full or half empty kind of person.

Right now, it feels like the majority of the big-hitter Gaelic football ‘influencers’ from newspapers to TV and radio coverage continue to depict Gaelic football as something overly negative, ugly and without much potential for positivity. They’re just like that first salesman, but with a different product.

Their attitude is pervasive. It’s like a slow burning gorse fire that reaches every sitting room, public house, and football supporter in the country and has left Gaelic football in desperate need of a PR makeover.

Everybody in the GAA is well aware of the many flaws that exist within the current championship structures and within the association as a whole. We know there is a huge disparity between the haves and the have nots.

Population, funding and finance, dual counties, administration, leadership… no two counties have the same expertise or resources. It’s not a level playing field. We get it.

And don’t forget the whole argument that the game has been critically infected with the horrible defensive virus, that has transformed Gaelic football into some kind of bastardised version of basketball and rugby. The games were so much better quality back in the 80s and 90s don’t you know.

People are walking away from the game in their droves apparently, players and supporters are packing it in at an alarming rate.

A lot of it brings to mind Donald Trump at this stage… if not fake, definitely negative news.

Over and over again we are force-fed this habitual scepticism about our game and eventually it seeps into our collective consciousness until all we start to see is only the flaws and not the fantastic.

There’s a reason why being an ‘influencer’ has developed into quite the lucrative gig.

People all over the world are getting paid considerable sums of money to promote brands or products through their social media platforms because companies have identified the practice as one of the most effective forms of marketing their wares and creating more powerful brand awareness and engagement.

Some of these YouTube ‘stars’ with a few million followers can rake in as much as $300,000 (€258,000) per sponsored post advertising some new face cream, pair of jeans or soft drink, such is the influence they have over the people who value their opinion and take a lead from them.

It’s why Bennetti sponsor some of the top GAA stars in the country and why you’ll see other big name players with a considerable social media following thank Tommy Bowe each year for the latest care package they received from his XV clothing range.

The companies do it because it is good business and they know they are getting bang for their buck because people are heavily influenced by what they see and hear on TV and radio, in newspapers and on social media.

Some people talking on TV about the game now appear far more concerned with generating their own viral moment with a catchy one-liner as opposed to actually providing some nugget of insight or finding a few moments to celebrate in the game.

Too much of today’s Gaelic football storyline is determined by that first salesman.

When Galway defeated Mayo in a horribly dour contest at the start of May, we were told the game couldn’t get any worse, and it most certainly wasn’t given long more to live. The pulse was too weak to carry it through the summer.

Galway manager Kevin Walsh
Galway manager Kevin Walsh

Talk about an overreaction. The baby, the bathwater, the flipping bath, everything went out the window. It’s like bad games or poor quality football never existed before.

Last weekend, we had one of the most extraordinary sets of results in modern championship history.

Cork defeated a fancied Tipperary team who were competing to get back to another provincial final. Longford upset Meath and Carlow stomped on Kildare in what is a topsy turvy Leinster Championship. Of course, Dublin also mauled an outmatched Wicklow in a game that should have been played in Aughrim, but it wasn’t the only storyline of the weekend.

Why not celebrate the magnificence of Carlow’s rising from bottom feeder three years ago to provincial semi-finalist in 2018? Has there been a more staggering ascension, outside of a story from the Bible?

Sure, you can look at Kildare and question what is going on in their county, but I’d sooner give Turlough O’Brien the credit for the outstanding job he has done getting his guys in Carlow playing good football and making them a competitive force.

Carlow’s Paul Broderick
Carlow’s Paul Broderick

Two weeks ago, Monaghan put on an exhibition of Gaelic football against Mickey Harte’s Tyrone. The quality of the kicking from hand and off the ground in that game was special to watch, highlighted by one of the finest scores you’ll see all year from Conor McManus when he stroked a right-footed curler from what seemed like just behind the ticket van down the road a half a mile from the stadium.

I’m not suggesting we bury our heads in the sand and ignore the obvious issues and inequities that exist within the championship. But we’ve allowed ourselves to become brainwashed to some extent by the influencers who have steered the narrative of the Gaelic football championship down a very dark and mournful path.

All I’m saying is, if nobody is wearing shoes, it doesn’t always mean there is no opportunity for something positive to take place.

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